ABC RADIO AUSTRALIA
Updated Fri Jan 9, 2009 2:09pm AEDT
The future of Fiji's kava industry looks bright now that the European Union lifted its bans and reopened the European market. Ratu Josateki Nawalowalo, Chairman of Fiji's Kava Council, regards kava as the only hope for the country's economy as the sugar industry declines further. Ratu Josateki sees kava as one day becoming a multimillion dollar industry but says it is essential that the fledgling industry receives adequate government financial support. Late last year he forward a project proposal through the Ministry of Agriculture seeking funds to formalise the structure of the industry, as required under the agreement with the European Commission.
Josateki Nawalowalo, Chairman of Fiji's Kava Council
NAWALOWALO: I'm now looking forward to the government actually responding to my project proposal that there be some financial funding of the industry, because of the requirements by the European Union that we strengthen our institutions that will be responsible for the kava industry and the kava trade.
MORTENSEN: Has the kava industry had a formalised institution until now? I know you are the Kava Council, but have are all the producers under your umbrella?
NAWALOWALO: No, it has been a loose arrangement under the Fiji Kava Council, that's so because the question of markets was the issue, but we have now been advised of the approval of agreement in principle by the European Union, for which will also open up international markets. We are now seriously looking at injecting funds and also strengthening the institution by regulations.
MORTENSEN: How have the Kava farmers responded to this?
NAWALOWALO: Well, they have responded very well and certainly looking forward to the support that is necessary coming forward through the council and the government of the day.
MORTENSEN: Because this was part of their agreement to lift the ban, if you formed yourselves into a proper body, is that right?
NAWALOWALO: Yes, yes, that's definitely where we are right now, with the formalisation and regulisation of it, it's part of the structures that are with the government. They need to pass this through cabinet and of course the funding that will come with it in terms of the new budget that is required to fast track a lot of the development work that needs to be done.
MORTENSEN: Now, I know you've asked the government for half-a-million dollars through a proposal to the agricultural ministry. You have received no response you say as yet?
NAWALOWALO: I'm now expecting the response to be forthcoming within the next few days.
MORTENSEN: And the European Union gave you a-quarter-of-a-million dollars?
NAWALOWALO: Not actually gave me a quarter-of-a-million dollars. It was to be allocated as part of this budget proposal. They were to look at the development of training programs, that had to deal with quality controls, standards to be met, the strengthen being the quality of course the production and cultivation that goes with it and also to strengthen the organisation itself, which is the Fiji Kava Council and the International Kava Executive Council at that. So that promise was there that their assurance that they will pump in that money, provided Fiji, the government also played their part, which is what we're now waiting for.
MORTENSEN: I know you've said that you see kava, the kava industry as an industry that's going to takeover the short fall caused by the downfall of the sugar industry. How are you actually going to produce the kava at a particular quality? Is it all going to be powdered, and is this going to be done centrally? Do you envisage a central, sort of I won't say mill, but I suppose factory?
NAWALOWALO: The best thing about kava compared to sugar. It has many market potentials. For instance, in Europe, it was there as a pharmaceutical to service the drug industry. Now there is also kava for the food supplement. Kava also is now going to be used in a big way as a herbal medicine. So there are many uses for kava and of course we will be dealing with the market requirements.
MORTENSEN: So is this going to be all exported in a powder form?
NAWALOWALO: No, no, no, no.
MORTENSEN: In a root form?
NAWALOWALO: It could be in a powdered form, it could be in its natural form, but dried or in whatever form that the market will require from us. We are now looking at even going downstream, where we will be able to process kava ready for in terms of kava, ready for the kava markets.
MORTENSEN: Has the lifting of the bans by the EU inspired many more farmers in Fiji to look at producing kava?
NAWALOWALO: Of course, it is not only Fiji, but we are looking at Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu who are natural producers of kava and also there is going to be a build up in the region, especially the countries of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon's coming into play. We are hoping to tie all that down through an agreement with the European Union where their supplies will only be through QI system where the Pacific Islanders are going to be the one producing kava for the markets in Europe.
MORTENSEN: Does any other country, South America or in the Bahamas or anywhere around there, do they produce kava at all?
NAWALOWALO: They have tried it out as I know when the kava markets were in existence back in 2000. But since then, I don't think they have continued, because the market had collapsed.
MORTENSEN: So kava itself is native to the South Pacific?
NAWALOWALO: It is native to the South Pacific, yes.