By Brian Lezutuni
Australians, Pacifika people living in Australia, are being forced to pay as much as SBD $2107 ($350 AUD) for a kilogram of impure kava from black market sales of the product.
With reduced international travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, supplies usually provided by travelling friends and family have decreased dramatically creating a shortage which has pushed up prices.
Kava farmers had hoped to benefit from a pilot program for commercial importation of kava that was announced in 2019 but may now have to wait until 2022 before they can tap into the Australian market.
Fiji born, Professor Satish Chand from the School of Business at the University of New South Wales, told Pacific Journalists this week that Pacific Islanders in Australia are desperately in need of kava.
An avid kava consumer himself, Professor Chand said where he lives in Canberra, he could buy half a dozen bottles of Scotch Whiskey for the same price as that for 1kg of kava.
“And that is weird. If I really wanted to get drunk, I’d buy whiskey not kava, but you know kava has got a different significance to Pacific islanders here. We can’t have a prayer session without kava, even amongst Hindus and Muslims, we still need kava,” he adds.
He urged government leaders ahead of the Forum Economic Ministers Meeting next week to give Australia the extra nudge into pushing the pilot project forward.
“There is a market that we can push for and I think that it is high time that we did so,” he added.
Trade and Investment Commissioner of the Pacific Trade Invest Australia, Caleb Jarvis said his organization has been involved in consultation with the Australian Government on kava and there is a demand in Australia.
He said there would be some controls and monitoring around kava imports.
“There will have to be commercial entities, licenced to export as well as licenced importers and distributors in Australia as well,” Commissioner Jarvis said.
“Quality will also be an issue as there is a push to have kava produced and packaged in a HACCP-certified facility.
HACCP is Australia’s food safety certification process.
At the moment, Countries that do not have a HACCP-certified packaging facility may be able to get their Kava packaged in Australia.
Mr Jarvis emphasised that the upcoming Forum Economic and Trade Ministers Meeting would be a great opportunity for members across the Pacific to put pressure on Australia for more discussions on opening up the kava pilot program sooner rather than later.
“They’ve put funding…and allocated funding in the last budget to this,” he added.