The public and private sector of the Pacific has come together to promote and secure the future of one of the region’s most important agricultural crops, Kava.
The Pacific Regional Conference on Kava convened virtually yesterday, and will run till 29 October 2021, to identify opportunities and challenges to strengthen the kava sector and create a unified voice against misinformation on the crop.
For centuries, the kava (Piper methysticum) plant has played a significant role in Pacific culture, mixed into a beverage for traditional practices and ceremonies, as well as social events. It is now also an important crop and export commodity primarily produced in the Pacific Island Countries and Territories.
“There is great potential to promote our kava industry for the global markets but there are existing challenges and long-standing misconceptions that hinder this progress,” said the Vanuatu Minister for Trade Hon James Bule. “For the Pacific people, kava has cultural significance, and it is important to bring our voices together to amplify the richness of its history and the benefits.”
The Conference was initiated by the Vanuatu Government but was delayed and scheduled virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the kava industry, with issues emerging from restrictions that limited consumption to prevent the spread of the virus, to travel restrictions, lockdowns, delays, and lack of access to export markets.
The Conference is an opportunity for participants to share knowledge and facilitate cross-learning sessions on addressing emerging issues faced by the industry, particularly in recovering from the pandemic. It brings together stakeholders from both the public and private sectors, non-governmental organisations, farmers, exporters and relevant actors in kava production. It is led by the Ministry of Tourism, Trade, Commerce, Industry and Ni-Vanuatu Business of Vanuatu in partnership with the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat, the Pacific Community (SPC), the Organisation of African, Caribbean and the Pacific States (OACPS), International Trade Centre (ITC), and PHAMA Plus, with the financial support of the European Union.
While providing his opening remarks at the conference, SPC Director General Dr Stuart Minchin said kava has transitioned from purely of cultural and social value to a plant of great economic significance. This has led to a huge surge in production in several countries due to the demand from markets within the region and abroad.
“The Pacific community understands that the increase in production over the last few years has led to corresponding increases in the area of land cultivated and the clearing of previously untouched forests thus creating concern for the potential impacts this will have on our fragile ecosystems,” he said. As a result, SPC is focused on promoting sustainable production that will hopefully provide valuable information on possible long-term approaches towards more environmentally friendly cultivation systems.
“Another important issue belying the Kava sector is the lack of quality data relating to the supply and value chains. Quality data is critical in order to have an accurate assessment of where the sector is at the moment, where the gaps are, whether it’s in production, consumption, trade or at the policy level,” he said.
The virtual convening provides a space to reflect on the progress that has been made and to strategise pathways towards improving the promotion, quality, production, market and brand of kava for export markets such as Australia, New Zealand, Asia, China, the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union. This includes identifying immediate needs, emerging issues and areas of technical or financial support. It may also explore the possibility to expand kava exports to other regions within the African Caribbean and Pacific States.
A key outcome from the conference is to map a way forward, through the development of the Regional Kava Strategy led by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS). This will be validated at a second Regional Conference due to be organised in early 2022.
Improving the capacity and standards of the kava industry in a way that prioritises sustainability, innovation, the protection of resources and human rights and acknowledges the context of the region will be prominent on the meeting agenda. SPC will continue to work with the diverse set of partners from the event to ensure outcomes are taken forward and the kava sector continues to grow and innovate to support livelihoods and help grow economies sustainably.