Go to any village in rural Solomon Islands and chances are you will find someone cultivating kava, the new craze, said to be replacing more traditional crops such as copra and cocoa.
Unlike copra and cocoa, kava is new, not many people drink kava, or have a good understanding of the technical aspects of the crop – which often determines the quality of the kava once harvested. Trainings are being implemented throughout the Solomon Islands by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL), the most recent was in Arosi, Makira-Ulawa Province.
MAL principal field officer (PFO), Michael Tanisapa, said that “increasing production of the targeted cash crops and making sure farmers meet market requirements are of paramount importance.”
“To guarantee farmers acquire knowledge to improve their farm output, MAL has implemented such activities through the provision of projects to farmers and support through technical advice, awareness and trainings to boost their capacity.”
Such an approach is important since most farmers are driven by the ‘hype’ around kava where the current local price is around SBD$250 per kg. The US market is currently retailing at around USD$100 per kg, or SBD$800 per kg, but this is the finished product so it is properly packaged and sold online.
So, there is certainly good reasons to be excited. But it may not be that simple to sustain this boom in kava interest.
As kava from the Solomon Islands expands outside of the Pacific Islands, and expands into different industries worldwide, quality assurance becomes a very important issue. Not too long-ago kava was banned in the European market, one of the more lucrative markets globally.
Since than many Pacific Islands have developed quality assurance policies and have invested, through private enterprises, the local capacity to test kava.
A major success story is Fiji Kava Limited, also known as Taki Mai, one of two large kava processing facilities in Fiji. It is the first kava company to list on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) and in 2019 opened the world’s first kava tissue culture laboratory, which will clone parent kava plants and grow standardised, quality-controlled plantlets at its factory in Levuka, the old capital of Fiji.
This is perhaps the only way to sustain and grow our kava market – we need to learn from those that are leaders in the kava industry. What seems clear is that we need to have proper policies in place to guide and develop the quality of our kava.
To date, what we certainly have is quantity – but quality is what counts. Solomon Islands kava is already being sold in the US, though in small quantities it does show the potential the crop has for our rural farmers.