By BRIAN LEZUTUNI
As the kava market slows, plans by Australia to allow importation of commercial quantities are being welcomed by one of the country’s leading kava exporters.
In late July, Varivao Holdings Ltd suspended kava purchases from local farmers due to limited market demand and financial hardship brought by the pandemic.
Benjamin Hageria, the General Manager of Varivao Holdings told Island Sun that opening up the Australian market to commercial kava importation will be good for business.
In mid-July, Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Zed Seselja told Pacific journalists that commercial kava imports into Australia could begin as soon as the end of this year.
At the moment, Australia only allows kava to enter the country if it is carried by travellers for their own personal use. Each traveller is allowed a maximum of 4kgs of kava.
Since it ventured into the kava business in 2008, Varivao has exported kava to countries such as the United States of America, Kiribati, Nauru and Marshall Islands. It is also responsible for distributing kava products in the domestic market.
“My company is looking ahead to exporting kava to Australia,” an elated Hageria said.
“Australia has a higher population of Pacific people and consumers of kava, and our company is working on a plan based on our research and findings from the Australian market.
“I want Solomon kava to enter and be sold in the Australian market.
Hageria said he postponed buying kava due to the market being slow and the difficulty faced by the company in supporting kava farmers.
“Kava famers kept coming, but I told them to wait a little bit due to the challenges faced in the international market.
“We also have competition from our neighbouring countries who export kava as well.
Minister Seselja said consultations about re-starting commercial imports into Australia via a pilot programme have been ongoing, the most recent being a Kava Forum in Canberra in June.
The pilot programme was first promised in 2019 by the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison as part of his commitment to the Pacific under the Pacific Step-up.
“It was delayed as a result of COVID, but we intend to progress it over the back-end of this year,” Minister Seselja told regional journalists.
Kava drinkers in Australia, who are being forced to pay as much as SBD $2107 ($350 AUD) for a kilogram of impure kava from black market, will be delighted.
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.