‘Pioneering’ kava tissue culture club

Anil Ghodke (Managing Director Plant Biotech) working on Kava samples at the launch of the FijiKava Kava Tissue Culture Lab in Levuka. Picture: ELIKI NUKUTABU

FIJI Kava sees tissue culture as a long-term solution for creating a sustainable and growing kava industry, says company managing director Zane Yoshida.

The company commissioned what is believed to be the world’s first commercial kava tissue culture laboratory in Levuka, Ovalau yesterday, with the aim to help ensure Fiji produces world-class, disease-free kava and to meet the burgeoning demand for kava from around the world.

Fiji Kava’s Fiji-born and Australian-based founder and managing director Mr Yoshida said the investment was pioneering and would help standardise the quality of kava globally in the future.

“Kava is enjoying a resurgence in western markets, and the tissue culture technology that we are developing at this plant establishes a platform for guaranteed quality to help shape the global resurgence of kava.

“Not only will it have major sustainability benefits of kava for the industry, but the tissue culture lab will provide Fiji Kava with a unique differentiator and leading edge over its competitors,” he said.

He said the tissue lab would grow disease-free plantlets as well as create exact copies of plants that have desirable traits, improving the quality and yield of kava.

According to Mr Yoshida, these plantlets will then be provided to growers — more than 200 who are supported by Fiji Kava — helping them create a sustainable business model.

In a statement, Mr Yoshida said the lab was also an important part of the standardisation of desirable kavalactone profiles — the medicinal, anti-anxiety quality in kava — as Fiji Kava moves into clinical trials.

“Our work also complements an investment by the Australian Government-funded Pacific Horticulture and Agriculture Market Access (PHAMA) program in defining kava varieties and establishing quality standards,” Mr Yoshida said.

“We are also seeing very strong growth in kava in western markets as new global legislation and regulations are developed and applied. In the United States, for instance, there is a surge in ‘kava bars’ — hundreds have sprung up.”

Mr Yoshida said the new laboratory would employ four technicians and adding to 40 employees in Levuka, which was a change for the industry.

“This investment is pioneering and will help standardise the quality of kava globally in the future,” Mr Yoshida said.

The statement from Fiji Kava said according to research from Australian-based Pac Partners, exported Fijian kava had experienced strong growth over the past five years, growing at an average of 32 per cent a year, driven largely by demand from the US and New Zealand.

It said the two countries combined accounted for 75 per cent of the value of all exported Fijian kava.

“The United States is experiencing a strong uptake due to the growing trend of consuming kava socially as an alternative to alcohol, whereas New Zealand has a strong Pacific Islander population that consumes kava,” Pac Partners noted.

Mr Yoshida also noted that the Fiji Kava Bill, once enacted, will establish the Fiji Kava Council to regulate the cultivation, processing, transportation, and marketing of kava.

The legislation and other guidelines and regulations means that the industry is now far better prepared to deal with the current kava boom, compared with the late 1990s when a sharp increase in demand couldn’t be matched by quality control.

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