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There has been a strong upward surge in kava consumption and price over the past few years and the future looks promising for the industry in Fiji.
International consultant and economist David Young said in terms of exports over the past 10 years Fiji's kava exports averaged 2018 tonnes per year worth $6 million (US$3 million).
Young said statistics showed that last year kava exports totalled 256 tonnes worth $14.3m (US$7 million).
Statistics showed that over the past 10 years Fiji's kava imports were an average of 186 tonnes per year worth $3.9m (US$1.9 million) while in 2016 imports totalled 94 tonnes worth $3.7m (US$1.8 million).
Young said the study revealed that there was a general lack of knowledge among yaqona farmers on the different varieties of the crop they were planting and what variety would give them higher yield.
He said in Fiji's case kava was a high value smallholder crop and recommended that more development was needed for the industry to grow sustainably.
Meanwhile, the kava industry presents great opportunities for women if they decide to engage in the sector.
This was one of the views expressed at the kava value chain analysis validation workshop organised by Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access (PHAMA) Programme.
Statistics presented at the workshop revealed that only a handful of women were commercially involved in yaqona farming.
National team leader for the kava study, Waisiki Gonemaituba said data from the Ministry of Agriculture showed that only 2 per cent of yaqona farmers were female.
Gonemaituba said however, in the context of household yaqona farming, there were a lot of woman participation in the yaqona value chain activities such as weeding, planting, washing, sorting, grading, packing, bookkeeping and marketing, but not highlighted.
He said the 2009 Agriculture Census showed that there were 5 per cent of women farmers in the agriculture sector, raising the need to empower women through training and access to finance.
The study also highlighted that a lot of young people were interested in yaqona farming because of the lucrative prices it could fetch in two to three years time.
According to the 2009 Agriculture Census average age of farmers increased to 56 years and was difficult to attract young entrants.
Gonemaituba said this crop might change things around for strong youth participation.
"Farmers enjoy the impacts of high prices, with new houses, twin cab vehicles, purchase of house in towns, new farms. Some farmers stagger harvesting and keep yaqona plants on the ground to act as their bank."
Other issues that were highlighted included the use of mataqali land by most yaqona farmers in villages and the challenges it presented when they required to apply for bank loans.
Gonemaituba who is the national team leader for the analysis of kava value chain, said kava farming was mostly done by smallholder farms.
However, he said, if modern techniques and methods of production were employed to efficiently produce kava, it would solve a lot of other challenges such as faster moving inland for new areas.
Gonemaituba said their field study had also revealed that majority of yaqona farmers were i-taukei and farmed their mataqali land.
He said it was a challenge for them when seeking assistance from banks, government departments and international development projects where criteria was a lease title.
Access to farms was also an issue raised by yaqona farmers whereby farms were too far out from farmers' village or dwelling house.
Gonemaituba said distance from homes led to farmers moving inland to cultivate virgin lands with fertile soil.
He said their survey had also revealed that training for yaqona farmers on good agricultural practices, pre-harvest and post-harvest training that includes proper drying methods, financial literacy was required if the yaqona industry was to be developed.
source: FIJI TIMES/PACNEWS
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