FIJI KAVA GROWERS HOPE FOR EXPORT RELIEF

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Feb. 28) - Yaqona (kava) farmers on the island of Vanua Levu in Fiji should plant yaqona for the international market rather than the local market, said Fiji Kava Council representative Apolosi Vularomo.

Vularomo, the council’s lone representative on the northern island, has been visiting a number of villages in Macuata and Bua urging them to plant for the international market rather than the local market.

He said the international market would be open in either June or July to six big countries in the world.

"I have been telling them to plant for the international market so they can meet the demands of countries wanting to buy yaqona from Fiji," he said.

Vularomo said he had sought the assistance of the Ministry of Agriculture in the North on ways yaqona farmers could be assisted. The Ministry has developed a new system where yaqona and root crop farmers could be assisted. It has issued forms for farmers to fill out on the contents and quantity on their farms.

"I have visited a few villages in Bua and issued the forms to them on whatever they have in their farm; be it yaqona, uvi (yams), tavioka (cassava), dalo (taro) or sweet potatoes," he said.

Vularomo said the forms would then be sent to the Ministry for assessment.

"After assessing, the Ministry will then issue farming implements to them instead of them paying their one third contribution to the Government," he said.

The contents, varieties and quantity of what they have in their individual farms would determine the farming implements supplied to them by the Ministry.

Vularomo said the farming implements include digging fork, knife, knapsack spray and chemicals, manure, and chainsaw.

These implements would allow the yaqona farmers to keep their farms clean and ready for harvest after the first three years. He said when a yaqona plant is three years old it contains kava lecton, the substance extracted from yaqona and converted to drugs.

Vularomo said the more mature the yaqona plant, the more lecton it containes.

"This would fetch a higher price because of the higher content of lecton," he said.

A visit by the Fiji Times team to the Labasa market on Saturday found yaqona prices had dropped significantly.

Nailou Villager, 62-year-old Rafaele Catanaivalu, sells yaqona at the Labasa market.

"Right now the price of yaqona is very low and it's very difficult to sell because the prices are too low," he said.

Catanaivalu has been in the yaqona business for more than 17 years.

"This year the price of yaqona is very low compared to previous years," he said.

Catanaivalu was selling one kilogram of waka (kava roots) at $25 - $30.

To buy yaqona at wholesale prices would fetch $18 - $25 per kilogram of waka.

"And when you sell it at a retail price, it is $20 - $35 per kilogram of waka, which is very low and you don't make much profit" he said.

March 1, 2005

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