Agriculture Delegation Witness Revolutionized Kava Market in the U.S
A huge market for Fijian Kava or Yaqona exist in the United States of America (US) and is expected to grow exponentially estimating to be around USD$15million.
The acting Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture Mr Uraia Waibuta, who is also the Head of the US Market Scoping Delegation said that the current demand for Kava in the US alone is around 10 tons per year and has the potential to easily grow to 20 tons easily, as other market segments are explored.
This was revealed after the delegation met with some key Kava importers in California on Sunday 27th of September.
Mr Waibuta said that one of their highlights was the visit to a modernized Kava Bar in Sacramento called the ‘Root of Happiness Kava Bar’.
“This is Northern California’s first Kava bar which opened its doors in March 2013 and has been frequented by the diverse American consumers.
“We have witnessed this very modernized set up of a Kava Bar. It has redefined the kava bar as we know it in Fiji. It is designed to target the American customers and its expanding market. Even more surprising was that the owner, Mr Tyler Blythe said 90 percent of his customers were Russians who were interested in the serene atmosphere and more importantly the soothing effect of kava drinks,” he said.
Mr Waibuta said that “to our amazement when walking in to meet the owner we noted the bar was already half full with customers drinking the various kinds of Kava beverages served.”
Mr Blythe who is the head of the American Kava Association said that all Kava entering the United States will need to be cleared by the Food & Drugs Administration (FDA), analyzed of its chemical compositions, especially the Kavalactone level, to ensure that products served to the customers are safe for consumption and meet customer satisfaction.
“That’s why you see these customers who come in hundreds every night and they are very happy with our products,” he said.
Mr Blythe, mentioned that they opened 30 Kava Bars around America and target to expand a total of 60 Kava bars by the end of 2016.
Mr Waibuta reiterated that farmers in Fiji need to grow more kava to fulfill the demand in the export market particularly the US market.
The current production for Kava in Fiji is around 4000 tonnes from a total area of 1,300 hectares.
“This will need to be increase. The Ministry of Agriculture will gear up its efforts to support the Kava Industry,” Mr Waibuta added.
The Ministry he said, will further strengthen its collaboration with its partners, namely the European Union (EU) funded Improving Key Services to Agriculture Fiji (IKSA) projects of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in establishing kava nurseries around key areas in Fiji, so farmers can access good quality planting materials and more importantly the variety that is demanded by the market.
PHAMA, the Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access, an Australian and New Zealand government funded program is now helping the Ministry and industry in the development of the Fiji Yaqona (Kava) Quality Manual.
This Mr Waibuta said, will help farmers and exporters identify the 13 noble kava varieties in Fiji, areas in which this kava varieties are cultivated and also laboratory tests on which varieties have the best kava lactone level.
“Public awareness material such as posters documenting production, processing and a national kava standard based on food safety are also being developed.
“The Ministry is now working with the Solicitor General’s office in finalizing the Kava Bill, and also the Kava Standard which is currently in the process of drafting by our Research team.
“So, Kava is already entering another boom and with the Fijian Government support from 2016 we envisage positive interest and an increase in production, of course we will work with the price mechanism that will ensure that the farmers get their fair share of the price,” said Mr Waibuta.