Small Island Developing States

Developing capacity to establish and enforce Kava standards in Vanuatu

Kava is a highly valued crop in the Pacific, both as a cultural crop and a cash crop. The rhizome and roots of the plant are prepared into a water based beverage and form part of many traditional ceremonies in Vanuatu and other Pacific Islands. Vanuatu is regarded as the home of kava and it has more varieties than any other country in the region. As Vanuatu’s third largest export commodity after copra and cocoa, kava brings in about Vt 400 m in annual export earnings, a figure that is expected to grow with increasing market access and product development. In addition to exports, the domestic beverage market takes the bulk of kava produced around the country. It is difficult to quantify the size of the domestic market but kava is assumed to be the biggest commercial crop in Vanuatu.

In recognizing the potential of kava as an important commercial crop, Parliament passed a Kava Act in 2002 to regulate kava quality and ensure that only “noble” kava varieties are traded, however the act has not been implemented effectively. This has given rise to a surge in the trading of non-noble kava varieties, so-called “tu-dei kava”. This kava variety is deemed unsafe for human consumption and although it used to generate a “quick buck” by unscrupulous farmers, it puts the Kava Industry as a whole at a great risk of being banned from the export market again. Furthermore, because tu-dei kava is not safe for human consumption, having it available as a beverage on the domestic market puts the lives of consumers at risk.

It is clear that while farmers in Vanuatu have sound knowledge regarding general kava cultivation, greater awareness is needed to avoid the use of unsafe varieties. Establishing an understanding of the issues of quality and safety and building a consensus among stakeholders on the need to protect the industry through a national kava quality control system is crucial for the future of the sector.

It is to this end that the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Livestock and Biodiversity (MALFFB) has requested to partner with FAO to strengthen its capacity to implement a quality control system based on kava standards that limit the cultivation and trading to noble varieties only. MALFBB requires assistance to develop a kava quality campaign and roll out a kava quality control programme in the main kava producing provinces. This will involve training a core group of trainers (provincial extension officers) followed by field level campaigns to educate farmers on the issue of kava quality. This assistance is embedded in a partnership with the Pacific Horticultural Agricultural Market Access Program (PHAMA), who have led the development of kava quality management tools, as well as ongoing work to develop analytical tests to distinguish between noble and non-noble varieties.

Implementation Arrangements - an FAO facilitated project inception workshop will develop a detailed work plan to establish and implement the kava quality control system. This will also include identification of implementation partners, a detailed costing of activities and setting measurable targets for monitoring purposes. Following this, a letter of agreement (LoA) will be signed by FAO and MALFFB, to allow developing the campaign concept and eventual rolling out training and awareness raising activities at field level in the four provinces of Sanma, Malampa, Penama and Shefa. Implementation of training and awareness raising activities will be monitored through periodic field visits by the Assistant FAOR Vanuatu.

As part of the project, FAO will also help to convene a technical workshop among kava experts to discuss the state of the art in kava analysis, because the ability to distinguish between noble and non-noble varieties is crucial for quality control. Presently, kava quality can be measured using high performance thin layer chromatography (HPTLC) methodology. However, this is limited to advanced laboratory settings and not suitable for rapid testing. Research is currently ongoing to further develop Near-Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy (NIRS), which could be used for controlling the trade of kava varieties by determining their chemical signature (chemotype). The workshop will bring together experts to discuss testing options for the development of a routine quality control system.

05 Mar 2015
 - 30 Jun 2016
US$ 92,243
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Natios