Fiji’s kava farmers urged to innovate to meet growing US demand

Photo: RNZ / Jo Moir

RADIO NZ – 9:39 am on 9 October 2020

Christine Rovoi, RNZ Pacific Journalist

Fijian kava farmers are being urged to be more innovative to meet rising US demand.

Listen to this story on Dateline Pacific duration 3′ :27″ from Dateline PacificAdd to playlistListen to this story on Dateline Pacific

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

At last week’s Forward Kava Workshop in Suva, Investment Fiji export advisor Shaneel Nair said Fiji’s kava market needed to bridge a seven percent gap this year to meet the rising demand for kava in the US.

Kava made up two-thirds of Fiji’s exports to the US last year and the island’s government could help potential exporters, Nair said.

“To meet this demand, farmers need to be more innovative with their methods of farming,” he said.

Kava drink gains international recognition

With kava now officially recognised as a drink and not just a drug, demand is expected to increase across the world.

Last month, the international body that sets global food standards, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, established a standard for kava as a beverage.

The commission ruled it must be mixed with water.

The new kava classification is expected to open fair trading between 14 countries, including New Zealand.

The ruling comes after a 16-year battle to get the traditional Pacific drink recognised.

Fijian kava stakeholders discuss ways they can meet the US market demand.
Photo: Supplied/US Embassy, Suva

US Embassy holds kava workshop

Last week’s workshop in Fiji was hosted by the US Embassy and saw 24 key figures from the industry convene to discuss ways of advancing the industry.

Americans of all backgrounds had a growing thirst for kava, said Joseph Cella, the US Ambassador to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga and Tuvalu.

“Americans are consuming kava the traditional Fijian way with bilo and tanoa and in modern cocktails and extracts.

“We discussed ways that Fijian kava producers can meet the demands of the United States market and find new and creative opportunities to promote their products in sustainable and culturally respectful ways,” Cella said.

US Ambassador Joseph Cella indulges in the traditional Fijian brew as Fiji kava industry officials George Kotobalavu, left, and Shaneel Nair look on.
US Ambassador Joseph Cella indulges in the traditional Fijian brew as Fiji kava industry officials George Kotobalavu, left, and Shaneel Nair look on. Photo: Supplied/US Embassy, Suva

Fiji’s kava exports to the US have gradually increased over the past four years, earning $US15 million last year.

Cella said there were about 180 kava bars throughout the US.

Discussions would continue over how Michigan State University could assist Fijian yaqona growers, he said.

Fiji Kava general manager sales George Kotobalavu said it planned to build new nurseries to help meet demand and was also making tea bags.

Kava farmers needed to thoroughly clean the harvested crop, before it was prepared for consumption, Kotobalavu said.

“Raising the bar to international standards is something the local market needs to be made aware of,” he said.

Zane Yoshida.
Zane Yoshida. Photo: Supplied/Fiji Kava Ltd

In August, Fiji Kava announced it was expanding its operations to China, because the market there was more lucrative than in New Zealand.

Chief executive Zane Yoshida said the company’s products were being sold in China’s medicine, personal care and pharmaceutical industries and there would be electronic commerce opportunities.

“China is the second largest market in the world in relation to vitamins and supplements, estimated at $AU40 billion,” Yoshida said.

Chinese consumers had used traditional medicines for thousands of years, so kava was a “natural stick” in the market, he said.

Sales were projected to rake in at least $US5.8m for Fiji Kava over the next three years, Yoshida said.

Fiji exported just over 328,000 kg of kava last year.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here