A blog maintained by Tevita Kete, PGR Officer
Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji Islands
This weblog documents the activities of Pacific Agricultural Genetic Resources Network (PAPGREN), along with other information on plant genetic resources (PGR) in the Pacific.
The myriad varieties found within cultivated plants are fundamental to the present and future productivity of agriculture. PAPGREN, which is coordinated by the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), helps Pacific countries and territories to conserve their crop genetic diversity sustainably, with technical assistance from the Bioversity International (BI) and support from NZAID and ACIAR.
SPC also hosts the Centre of Pacific Crops and Trees (CEPaCT). The CEPaCT maintains regional in vitro collections of crops important to the Pacific and carries out research on tissue culture technology. The CEPaCT Adviser is Dr Mary Taylor (MaryT@spc.int), the CEPaCT Curator is Ms Valerie Tuia (ValerieT@spc.int).
PAPGREN coordination and support
Mr William Wigmore
Mr Adelino S. Lorens
Dr Lois Englberger
Mr Apisai Ucuboi
Dr Maurice Wong
Mr Tianeti Beenna Ioane
Mr Frederick Muller
Mr Herman Francisco
Ms Rosa Kambuou
Ms Laisene Samuelu
Mr Jimi Saelea
Mr Tony Jansen
Mr Finao Pole
Mr Frazer Bule Lehi
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Monday, February 07, 2005
Posted 6:21 PM by Luigi
High quality kava the only way to go...
...if the Pacific wants to expand market.
By Arthur McCutchan, Islands Business, January 2005.
The drop in the quality of kava alarms Vincent Lebot. To the extent that this root crop geneticist at the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) in Port Vila, Vanuatu, is just about ready to give up drinking it.
Lebot has been a kava consumer for the last 24 years. He’s an even keener researcher, having, since 1980, devoted most of his spare time trying to unravel the genetic mysteries of this unique Pacific plant.
In the absence of any comprehensive study of the plant, it’s a challenge in which kava holds the advantage. “Very little research has been conducted because very few scientists work on kava,” Lebot said. “The reason for that is that there are not enough funds. Aid donors are ready to invest funds into crops which have already been researched elsewhere—like sugarcane, cocoa, coffee, coconuts and so on—because these are familiar to them.
“They don’t like kava. It’s an obscure plant that is illegal in Europe.”The other reason, from a scientist’s point of view, is its complicated makeup.
“This plant is a real nightmare for geneticists,” Lebot told delegates at the International Kava Conference in Suva last month. The symposium was the first organised by the International Kava Council.
But while most plants have two sets of chromosomes, kava has 10. “It is also sterile and cannot produce true seeds,” Lebot said. “It is a vulnerable species, but we don’t know how to genetically improve it to make it more resistant to diseases, particularly when it is now under threat from the virus kava dieback.”
While he advocates greater private sector involvement in funding all aspects of kava research, he also places total blame for the deterioration of the industry in the sector’s collective lap. “It is a traditional beverage and a local crop, but the private sector here should take full responsibility for the decline in the quality of kava produced in the Pacific,” Lebot says.
“In the absence of a regulatory body or regulatory policies, the private sector is free to do whatever it wants with kava.
“It is free to improve quality, to add value to local products, to process it locally, to control the cultural practices of the farmers, and so on.
“Because it is free to do all this, it becomes fully accountable when it sells by-products like kava peelings, or when it purchases kava which is too young, uncleaned, or even when it sells false kava under the name kava.”
The plant he calls “false kava” is known scientifically as Piper aduncum. It looks not unlike the Piper methysticum of pharmaceutical fame, but that is where the similarities end.
Lebot also finds the private sector in Europe; the giant pharmaceutical companies that convert powdered kava into stress-relieving pills and concoctions, equally accountable for the industry’s poor reputation.“The private sector in Europe is fully responsible because they don’t want to understand that kava is a highly variable product, that local traders are not as reliable as they should be and that consequently they should make sure that they know what they are buying from the region.”
Lebot laments the lack of real interest in kava among those who trade in it. They like the money they can get out of it but they don’t know what constitutes good kava. “They lost that culture a long time ago and are now beer drinkers.”
He contrasts that with whisky traders in Scotland, wine traders in France and tea traders in India. “Not only are they traders, they are connoisseurs of their product. In the Pacific the private sector is not proud of the product it is dealing with.
“Here our kava traders are selling it as a commodity, raw material, and not the high quality product it deserves to be.”
Kava farmers who do not know any better also contribute to the state of the industry, “selling the wrong varieties to buyers, or root stocks with toxic unpeeled basal stems,” Lebot said.
“Local governments are also to blame because they have failed to pass legislation to regulate an industry that has grown too fast.“In cases where they have set up regulations, like Vanuatu, they are not enforcing them.”
Lebot said it would take many years and much work to rectify all these problems. “If you want consumers to drink more kava so that the market expands, you should sell high quality kava. There is no other way.”
The region’s failure to realise the potential of this plant will effectively kill off any commercial benefits it can obtain from it.
“There is a serious threat that other countries will take it and mass produce kava. We must remember that anything which can be cultivated in the Pacific can be grown in other tropical
countries in not only larger quantities but at a cheaper price and of better quality,” Lebot said.
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