SINCE 2007, the Fiji Kava Council has argued that kava returns to the country could reach amounts up to the $20million mark.
Kava exports grew significantly in the late 1990s because of the demand from overseas.
The increase in migration of Fijian citizens helped fuel the increase in yaqona shipment overseas.
Initially, kava was mainly exported for the consumption by the Pacific islanders.
Migration from Fiji started in the 1970s and accelerated after 1987 because of political turmoil, and it remained constant throughout reaching its peak after 2000.
Because of the sudden surge in demand in 1998 from the pharmaceutical industry, the farmers uprooted as much kava as they could, and hence compromising the sustainability of the industry.
The kava prices were the highest ever in 1998 and everyone involved in kava trade tried to make the most out of the opportunity without having product quality considerations.
In 2006, two PHD candidates Shiu Raj and Narend Prasad presented a yaqona paper in Malta, Italy based on intensive research and findings on the yaqona industry in Fiji from the 1990s to the current year.
What this report stated was that growers exploited the increased demand to their peril by exporting low quality product from the late 1990s.
This eventually led to the demise of the yaqona export industry.
"This unstructured management of the crop led to decline in production in the consecutive years, and then an increase in 2001 mainly due to replanting of kava after the massive 1998 harvest. Since then the kava production has been in the decline because of the import ban in the export markets.
In addition, kava plants in some areas of Fiji are also plagued by the die-back disease which affects the production in a significant way," the report stated.
However, because of the unstructured production capacity development of Fiji's kava industry, it has gradually become a net importer of kava since 2002 with Vanuatu being the key source market.
In addition the kava import ban imposed in 2001 by the key export destination has suppressed the production capacity because of the uncertainty about eventual supply to these markets.
The economic importance of kava has been recent, starting in the 1970s. Fiji was a net importer of Kava in the 1970s, but its export started to grow from the 1980s (Mangal 1988), increasing substantially in the 1990s). (Mangal, J. (1988)
There are certainly positive macro-economic impacts on kava exports such as increase in foreign exchange, economic multipliers in terms of purchasing power of the farmers, increased material wellbeing, and so forth.
More importantly, it provides the poor farmers with cash to meet their daily costs.
For example, The Fiji Times (13 Dec. 2005) reports how a village in Fiji had set up a youth farming project some four years ago to plant kava and reap its rewards. These youths did not have any employment apart from working as cane cutters in the nearby cane farms.
Kava production brings them more money and the employment conditions are better.
The Fiji Times on Nov. 4, 2005, also reported "Fiji Village pays school fees with kava."
These are examples of how important to the local community this industry is if established with the right working ideals and conditions.
In 2009, the Ministry of Agriculture noted an increase in kava production in the past three years before that.
From 692 tonnes of the crop harvested in 2008, production more than doubled to 143 tonnes in 2009. (Fiji Times, 2010).
These figures were revealed at microfinance seminar in Savusavu in 2010.
Farmers are beginning to see the benefits of planting more than one crop in their fields.
Traditionally, taro planting was for personal consumption or to supply to the local market to earn money.
Recently, planting taro for export has been realised but farmers also realise the extra monetary gains from adding another cash crop like kava which explains the increase in production.
Consequently, other kava producing countries like Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, and the Marshall Islands have also profited from this boom.
Fiji's dominant trade infrastructure compared to the smaller Pacific island countries allowed it to capitalise on this opportunity mainly because of its initial production capacity, experience and export linkages in terms of transportation and marketing.
The Fiji Missions based in Europe are currently having talks with our European counterparts in re-opening the market for Fiji kava to enter their domain.
* This is a weekly contribution from the Fiji Export Council.