Increasing Kava Production Through Partnership: Recap on 2019 National Kava Replanting Programme

Kava is rapidly becoming a significant cash crop in the Pacific. It offers a unique road to development for the region, as it is a high-value, durable commodity which is currently exclusively produced in the Pacific.

Almost every other commodity which the Pacific produces are produced on a global scale, with the Pacific having little to no impact on the global supply and demand. The glaring exception to this is kava, whereby the Pacific dominates the industry.

In Vanuatu, known as the ‘home of kava’, the level of exports soared in late 2017. In 2018, kava was 52% of merchandise exports.

This is at record levels, and well over double the long-term equilibrium. To note Tropical Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu in March 2015, devastating many kava farms across the country.

However, it can only be suggested that the focused kava activities such as the kava campaigns and replanting programmes and other promotional events that were executed in the past few years appeared to have some positive input to the progress as expressed in the kava export data.

One of the activities was the second kava forum held in Luganville, Santo, on September 24, 2019 purposely to bring farmers and stakeholders together to discuss issues surrounding the kava industry and also provide recommendations and resolutions that will bring way forward for the development of kava into the future.

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s (DARD) Kava Officer, Peter Kwari said, “The main purpose of the National Kava Replanting Programme launched in 2015 is to first promote the replanting of the ‘noble’ kava varieties and secondly to strengthen and develop the capacity of lead-farmers and extension officers in kava production (quality/quantity) to implement, enforce and ensure compliance with the provisions of the new Kava Act which was passed and gazetted at the parliament to regulate kava quality and ensure that only ‘noble’ kava varieties are traded on the domestic and international market as stipulated in the Kava Act.

“The overall objective is to implement and enforce the Kava Act (Kava Act no. 6 of 2016) and promote the production of noble kava varieties.

“The National target is to plant 1 million kava seedlings by 2025 and to become the leading producer of good quality kava in the Pacific and the world and to enforce the ban of trading “Tu dei” kava in the domestic and export markets.”

Over 20,000 households in Vanuatu are expected to benefit from this programme since over 75% of the population live in the rural areas, and these households depend entirely on kava to generate income.

It also benefits local market vendors, mainly in Port Vila, Santo and the sub-urban areas to improve quality and increase the volume of kava sold locally and internationally.

Furthermore, this also certainly reduces health risks in consumption of tu-dei kava.

Six distributions of planting materials and launching on Efate, Maewo, Pentecost, Santo, Malekula, and Tanna has brought together farmers purposely to disseminate information and as well as distribute free kava branches and polybags.

Extension officers were appointed by the Director of Agriculture as compliance officer and trained to effectively carry out their roles as indicated on the Act throughout the high production areas mentioned above.

As part of the awareness, the field workers also identified and collected noble variety cuttings and established multiplication plots at various agriculture stations purposely to distribute planting materials to interested farmers.

Kava Officer, Kwari stated, “The programme outcome has seen a great control on the national capacity for kava quality control, increased production, marketing of noble kava and increased contribution to the country’s GDP.

“Over 20,000 households around Vanuatu now benefit from this program after TC Pam.

“The 2019 Kava Replanting Programme indicates that 5,600 kava cuttings were distributed to farmers in Penama province, Sanma province with 35,640 cuttings, Malampa province 27,839 seedlings, Shefa province 107,732 seedlings and Tafea province with 3,214 cuttings.

“A total of 135,571 kava seedlings and 44,454 cuttings were distributed in 2019.

“Kava is a key commodity crop for Vanuatu, with high demand both domestically and internationally.

“To increase production of this key crop, the DARD is supporting the planting of a million kava seedlings by 2020.

“These seedlings must be of the noble varieties following the Kava Act which states that only nobel varieties can be produced and sold for export.

“To realise this ambitious objective DARD has created partnerships with reliable producers of kava seedlings to meet the high number of seedlings required to distribute to farmers across the country,” the officer responsible for kava said.

DARD under the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry, Fisheries and Biosecurity (MALFFB) has initiated the Public Private Partnership (PPP) programme involving the private sector to participate in the agriculture sector especially in some priority cash crops. Kava is one of the priority crops that show high economic impact in the lives of Vanuatu people.

DARD has signed three contracts in 2019. The first contract was signed with the Cloud Kava Company to supply 17,647 kava seedlings to DARD at VT170 per seedling and sold to farmers at a price range from VT 50 to VT150 per seedling.

The second agreement was signed with Erro Timber and Sandalwood Company to assist farmers on Erromango with 2,904 kava cuttings, and the other contract was signed with Beleru farm to supply farmers around Santo and Malo with 35,640 kava cuttings.

Mr Kwari concluded, “Some of the key challenges encountered during the implementation of the Kava Replanting Programme were financial constraints, shortage of poly bags from suppliers, kava dieback disease, high demand of interested farmers and high cost of cuttings.

“The way forward would be ensuring finance is available on time, farmers must increase production to reduce the cost or price of kava in the domestic market, assistance needed to support kava replanting programme in particular nursery establishment, training, logistics and data collection, continuation of distribution of planting materials to reduce the cost of cuttings, continue with the PPP Policy — engaging the private sectors in the kava replanting program, and extension officers to acquire more training to familiarise themselves with the nobel kava varieties specified in the Kava Act.

Also to continue to assists and encourage Provincial Agriculture Officers (PAO) to establish kava collection plots at their station, visit farms and major kava producing islands in Vanuatu, trial out different cropping systems with kava, and train Assistant Agriculture Officers to know how to identify kava dieback disease symptoms.

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About the author: Marc Gerard
Kava lover. Grew up in Vanuatu.