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For Pacific Islanders living in Australia the COVID-19 pandemic has had an unexpected cultural impact: international border closures mean local supplies of kava are running low and prices have skyrocketed.
On a typical Friday night the members of the Fofo'anaga Club in Sydney would consume up to ten kilogrammes of kava.
The Tongan club used to supply the kava but its stocks ran out months ago.
“We don't have any stock at all,” said the club's Tevita Fifita. “It's just people bringing in their own supply.”
The only way to obtain kava legally in Australia is to bring it in from overseas yourself, most commonly on a flight from a Pacific island country.
You can't buy it in shops and commercial imports are banned.
The continued demand for kava, combined with the drop in supply has led to a dramatic increase in price.
“Now everybody's talking about $200(US$143) a kilo,” said Fifita.
“There's a lot of people asking for that but people around me are telling them to get lost”.
The price rise has been even more dramatic to the north in Brisbane according to Ratu Maseinawa, chairman of the Fijian Uniting Church.
“Those people that had kava before COVID-19, these people are selling it for three-, four-, five-hundred dollars per kilo, he said.
“That is absolute robbery to me, it's just cruel.”
The kava drought is not just affecting social drinking, but also ceremonies for births, deaths and weddings where the consumption of kava is an important traditional feature.
“It just doesn't fit when you see no kava there ... it just doesn't look traditional to us”.
At the start of the year, after vocal lobbying from Pacific islands governments, the Australian government increased the amount of kava people can bring into the country for personal use from two to four kilogrammes.
The Australian government also announced it would start a trial of commercial imports of kava but that has been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pacific Islands News Association
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International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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