EXPERT CALLS FOR FOCUS ON QUALITY IN VANUATU KAVA EXPORTS

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By Jonas Cullwick

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (August 23, 2001 - Port Vila Presse/PINA Nius Online)---A kava expert has warned of the need for Vanuatu's kava industry to concentrate on quality as they export to such markets as Fiji and New Caledonia.

The agronomist attached to the Department of Agriculture, Vincent Lebot, said 10 years ago many people overseas did not know about kava. But today there are kava tablets, capsules and other products all over the world. Some of these products, according to Lebot, have no taste of kava in them.

"For export, it is important to have original Vanuatu kava," Lebot advised.

He gave as an example the cases of neighboring Fiji and New Caledonia, where both import Vanuatu kava.

In Fiji, they package Vanuatu kava, which is imported in dried chip form and processed into powder, and resold, said Lebot.

In New Caledonia, he said: "I see people go to kava bars and the kava they are served is "two-day" kava from Vanuatu. The next day these people get a very bad hangover, they go to work with red eyes, and they can't do their jobs well. This can result with workers being sacked by their employers or worse still for Vanuatu, the kava imports could be stopped -- all because farmers did not think of quality when they decided to sell their kava -- just the money."

He advised that the future of the kava industry in Vanuatu and the Pacific is in processing locally to ensure quality. He admitted that for the start it will be difficult because investment and technology will be needed.

"But that is the key to taking control of the kava industry - from farmers producing the best quality to processed forms for export. The Department of Agriculture is trying to get farmers to realize that their future is in ensuring they produce the best quality of kava," Lebot advised.

Asked if he thought legislating for the kava industry was possible, Lebot foresaw Parliament passing laws in the near future - not to protect, but to "regulate and organize the quality of kava."

Lebot, who holds a degree in plant breeding and genetics, specializing in tropical crops, first arrived in Vanuatu from France in 1980 as a volunteer and taught at the Tagabe Agriculture School. The school has since closed, but his students are found everywhere in the country.

In his work on various crops in Vanuatu, Lebot has found that Vanuatu has a total of 82 species of kava as compared to Fiji with 12 species, Tonga nine, Samoa seven, Papua New Guinea two, Hawaii 13, Tahiti all extinct and Solomon Islands none.

He has published three books about his work on kava. The first book was published in the United States with the help of Yale University.

"We found that there are 247 different names for the various types of kava found in Vanuatu, but because of the 111 different languages in the country, they are talking about just the 82 different kava species found here," Lebot said.

For additional reports from the Port Vila Presse, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers: Port Vila (Vanuatu) Presse.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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