It is indeed an honour to be part of this inaugural ceremony of a significant research partnership between the Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access (PHAMA Plus) and Fiji National University.
Kava or commonly known locally as yaqona or grog is an agricultural commodity product that is used mostly for social, economic and traditional purposes in Fiji and the South Pacific Island Countries.
We have noticed that over the recent years, kava has gained popularity locally, regionally and internationally as a social beverage and as a pharmaceutical product in the western countries, particularly in Europe.
Kava in Fiji is now one of the significant contributing agricultural commodity to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Over the years, the expansion of the Fiji kava market ranges from within rural and urban centres locally, flowing into regional and global markets. We have seen kava being consumed internationally not only by our Fijian diaspora overseas but the rise in kava bars in countries like the USA has given kava prominence in the beverage market.
I remember in one of the studies conducted by PHAMA in 2017, it revealed that Fiji produces an average of 4000 – 4500 metric tonnes of dry weight kava annually, of which approximately 82 percent is consumed locally, and only approximately six percent (approximately 553 metric tonnes) is exported to regional and global markets.
Kava Production and Exports
Most of us will agree that kava production has been erratic over the years. When there is a price surge, our farmers are driven to plant, when the prices of kava is low – there is no motivation or drive to plant and produce.
Fiji only became a net exporter of kava in the 1980s. This was due to the high demand for pharmaceutical purposes, leading to price surge. The kava business for Fiji created linkages to three markets: pharmaceutical, as a nutritional supplement in the nutraceutical industry and the common beverage market.
Fiji’s kava export value has improved significantly over the years. In earlier years, value of kava exports ranged from an average of $8 million annually to $20 million in 2017. Now the export value of kava is the highest for all agricultural commodities recording $42 million in 2021.
The lifting of the EU kava ban in 2015 as well as the rise in demand for kava as a beverage drink in the USA may have created commodity confidence in regaining its competitiveness similar to that experienced in the 1990s.
Fiji’s Defining Legal and Regulatory Framework on Kava
Different players work collaboratively to deliver required outcomes under the agricultural export sector. Kava being an agricultural commodity, its institutional framework still rests under the Ministry of Agriculture. Fiji’s production and marketing of kava is currently bounded by the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji regulations.
Although there is a lack of a legal and regulatory framework that governs the operation of the kava sector in Fiji, I take this opportunity to acknowledge PHAMA on the formulation of the “Fiji Kava Standard” which places Fiji in a position to comply with the maximum levels of the Codex General Standard for Contaminants and Toxins in Foods (COdEX/ Stan 193-1995) established by the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
I believe that all of us are aware of Government’s fiscal situation.
The Agricultural sector plays an important role towards food security, income generation, rural development and economic diversification and it is Government’s responsibility to improve the regulatory environment and business processes.
I reiterate my sentiments that in order to allow this sector to grow, all different players must work collaboratively.
Although kava has received Government support over the years, (and I must be frank that it does not receive the same level of support as Sugar or the dalo industries), but Government is committed to “Rebuilding our confidence in our business and productive sectors”.
Rural and outer island development is one of the priorities for the Coalition Government, and we are committed to bridging the development gap between the rural and urban areas.
Therefore, I would like to again acknowledge PHAMA Plus for taking the initiative to undertake a very comprehensive research that will contribute immensely to the development of the kava sector in Fiji, as well as the wider Pacific region.
To all our development partners particularly the New Zealand and Australian Government that has been working behind the scenes in supporting PHAMA Plus in conducting research and development of this industry, thank you very much.
I know all of us present here today (not just PHAMA) recognizes the fundamental importance of gaining a better understanding of the phytochemical composition of kava for its product advancement and sector development – and I believe and look forward to the study which will be a useful tool for us policy makers to drive confidence in our kava industry.
I look forward to working with you all in elevating this industry!
Vinaka vakalevu and enjoy the rest of the afternoon!