A call to reopen a potentially high income-generating industry for the region has brought focus back to one of the region's on-going issues.As reported by the Fiji Times Online, European bans on kava products have cost the Pacific Islands more than $US1 billion in the past six years.
The ban had come about due to questions raised on the effects of kava consumption which led to the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medicinal Devices (BfArM) revoking licenses to sell kava-based products, citing cases of liver damage (though very rare) associated with kava products. This resulted in other countries in Europe following suit and countries outside Europe issuing strong warnings to consumers.
The kava industry then went from an export industry of more than $US200million to almost becoming non-existent.
However, a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) showing that kava exports to Europe can be safely resumed has led to a regional NGO calling for the industry to be reopened.
The Pacific Network on Globalization (PANG), based in Suva, Fiji, made the call through coordinator, Ms. Roshni Sami, who stated that the report shows what people in the Pacific have known for thousands of years, that the moderate use of kava is perfectly safe.
Ms. Sami adds that there are far more dangerous products freely available throughout Europe such as cigarettes and alcohol.
PANG is highlighting the issue to illustrate how significant non-tariff barriers can be to Pacific products in the export market. These barriers restrict developing countries from doing the very thing the European Union constantly lectures them about, that is, to create export industries to lift people out of poverty.
The head of the Fiji Kava Council, Ratu Josateki Nawalowalo, agrees saying that there is a lot of talk about addressing poverty yet, Pacific Islands are sitting on a commodity worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year, with kava-producing nations in the Pacific having enough kava in the ground to meet international demand for just one year.
The main kava-producing nations are Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu, with Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands contemplating coming aboard.
The ban, stemming mainly from the alleged liver damage associated with kava products, is deemed unnecessary. Especially when the links between kava and liver toxicity in those rare cases are questionable, even contested by medical professionals around the world.
In 2006, there were reports that research done in the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and the Laboratoire de Biologie Moleculaire du Cancer in Luxemburg revealed that kava may treat ovarian cancer and leukemia. Apparently, kava menthol extracts had been shown to kill leukemia and ovarian cancer cells in test-tubes, without targeting healthy cells.
There obviously needs to be further research done on kava but even more of an issue is the fact that there are other products freely available all over the world that do affect the liver. The report states that even products like Ibuprofen, a common anti-inflammatory medication, has a record of seven cases of acute liver injury per million prescriptions, while kava has just 0.23 questionable cases of liver injury per million doses.
Although the WHO report released in July this year allows for the sale of kava products with few safety provisions, it is yet to be heeded by European countries with restrictions on kava. This had led to questions of just how willing the EU is in nurturing development in the region and in other developing countries facing similar barriers.
A symbolic kava ceremony is planned for Thursday 27 September in which local kava industry representatives, fair trade advocates and EU representatives have been invited to attend to urge fair trade. Much depends on the outcome of this event, such as the fact that it could possibly mean a revival of a million-dollar industry that could bring much-needed financial revenue for the region.