“The most interesting and important thing was the fact that it took place at all.” Pacific Kava Industry: Better Data needed to support industry growth talanoa.

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Kava data was the topic of discussion at the Pacific Data Hub Community of Practices’ final talanoa for 2021. The talanoa moderator was Dr Tess Newton Cain, Project Lead at the Griffith Asia Institute’s Pacific Hub, and our speakers were Tanuvasa Semy Siakimotu, Kava Advisor at PHAMA Plus and Michael Louze, Chairman of the Vanuatu Kava Industry Association (VKIA).

We caught up with them afterwards for a quick chat about the talanoa, kava data and its importance.

Thanks for a great talanoa. Just to recap, why is Kava Data important?

Dr Tess Newton Cain: Kava often gets talked about in terms of being green gold, that it’s a great livelihood and economic opportunity, but in terms of catalysing investment, particularly from within the private sector, people need to know, what are the numbers? How much does it cost to set this up? What sort of returns can be expected? How do those returns differ between different markets? What are the opportunities for new markets?  The answers to all of these depend on having the data.

Michael Louz: Having the conversation was important.  For me I think we need more data and a monthly report, looking at price situation and looking at markets. Just after the kava data talanoa we had the regional kava conference and there was a presentation of the impact of COVID. And I could tell you that 99% of the people in in the room had no idea of the extent of the impact. They were thinking that things were fine but in reality, in the domestic market, the volume has been divided by two and the price has been divided by two and our exports are down by 42% so the farmers’ revenue has been divided at least by four compared to previous “normal” years.  And it's huge. Without data on these things these impacts are invisible to decision makers.

 Tanuvasa Semy Siakimotu: Data for any business is important, because it allows you to understand where investment is needed, understand where the needs are greatest, and allows you to prioritise them. If you look at kava it is only one of many agricultural value chains that are connected to exports. And everyone has a role to play. Right from the farmers, the policymakers, exporters and the market. For the farmers, they want to understand if there is a market, is there someone who will buy my kava and what's the potential for growth, because that drives investment on the farmers’ side. And then for the exporters, it's understanding the market, what are the requirements? Is there potential to grow and expand that market? Have I got enough suppliers for me to maintain the same volume of exports and meet the demand?

On the government side, it's understanding what the requirements are, how can they create an enabling environment? How can they negotiate fair import requirements? There are market specific requirements, but you need to comply with the border/ biosecurity requirements, which are often negotiated between governments. What are the biosecurity requirements? Are they appropriate? Or are they too restrictive? Can we negotiate more appropriate ones?  In all these instances, kava data is very important for the sector.

The talanoa features some lively discussion on the topic.  What was your main take away from the talanoa?

 Tanuvasa Semy Siakimotu : I walked away from the talanoa knowing that there's still a lot of work to be done, but it's a good start to have the right people, to have the issues discussed, and there should be more discussion of those issues, and bringing the right people to the discussion as well. So, we can provide the support to our kava farmers and our governments as well.

Dr Tess Newton Cain:  I think the most interesting and important thing was the fact that it took place at all. It’s one of several, emerging and ongoing conversations around kava that have been happening for some time. There’s been a number of national conversations, but at the regional level, it's been a bit under done. The other thing is that I really feel is that this is a Pacific conversation that has been started in the Pacific, it is led by Pacific islanders., drawing on Pacific expertise Pacific knowledge, Pacific networks, and I think that that's something to be really celebrated.  Finally, I think it’s also important and notable that people come to these conversations to make contributions and that's the strength of a talanoa that people can do that.

What’s the future for kava?

Michael Louz: A great example of the potential of kava is Kiribati. They have under 120,000 citizens and 10 years ago they never consumed kava.  But now for Vanuatu, it's one of our biggest markets and they're getting 130 tonnes of kava every year. So, it's a great example of a how small place can make a huge difference for the Pacific islands kava industry.  To me the future of Kava is bright!

Thanks for your time and thanks again for a great talanoa.

We’ll be bringing you more insightful talanoa from the Pacific Data hub community of Practice in 2022. To stay updated on these and other Pacific Data Hub activities, follow us on twitter @pacificdatahub

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Fijian Cava ceremony
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