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).
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Mr Tony Jansen
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Monday, March 28, 2005
Posted 1:48 PM by Luigi
Long-life kava: a unique Vanuatu export
Find this page online at: http://www.news.vu/en/business/Trade/050314-Vanuatu-long-life-kava.shtml
By Tony Ligo - The Independent, Port Vila - Monday, 14 March 2005
Perfecting a two-year shelf life for kava juice is the first step in an business process that will take the Japan international trade show and export markets by storm.
Farmers, local business people and investors have attempted to develop local agricultural products for export in the past 25 years, but technology has so far fallen short of providing a way of preserving raw products like kava in a manageable form.
In 1998, Yoan Kalsakau was convinced kava could be preserved as liquid, instead of dried roots as was already being done elsewhere in the region and abroad, and he was determined convert fresh green roots to a product with a lengthy shelf life.
Last week The Independent was taken on a tour of Kalsakau's new food processing company Agroprocessing, and the founder and director outlined their objectives and achievements. Kalsakau approached one of the worlds leading experts on kava, Dr Vincent Lebot, who agreed to take on the challenge. Together they researched and carried out tests, and finally made a scientific breakthrough. They received help from several international organisations and specialists, including Dr Richard Beyer, who will be joining them again from Fiji next month to continue work on perfecting a long shelf life for kava juice.
Today's shelf life is one month, but if kept refrigerated it lasts for up to six months. By the end of April, kava juice from Agroprocessing is expected to be preserved for one year.
During tests carried out in France, an international manufacturer of food products offered to pay for the rights to this process on kava, but Agro-processing refused as the company believes it should retain control of the complete manufacturing process before export.
"Dr Lebot was instrumental in providing and sourcing specific scientific input in the development and testing stages, particularly to find people overseas who were willing to run tests for us," stated Yoan.
"I remember at one stage green kava samples had to be taken to Australia for testing and although it was difficult with stringent quarantine laws, we managed to get it there through what I could only say was a miracle."
Contained in a 260g bottle with sealed cap the kava juice, once opened and poured into a "shell", has a fruity aroma, tastes like punch and is very light. Kava lovers will testify this is totally the opposite to what fresh kava juice tastes or smells like when consumed fresh.
How they managed to get kava from the farm to Port Vila and keep it fresh was explained by Kalsakau.
"We use water and a vitamin to keep the roots fresh. First the farmer harvests his crop, brings it home and puts it directly into drums of water mixed with a vitamin solution. Once it arrives here we simply clean the roots and the machines do the rest, with human guidance of course."
Specific machines are used for everything from chipping and washing the roots, to grinding the roots and extracting the juice by a pressing process. From there it is bottled and packaged for retail. "We still have to provide more information for labeling before our product is ready for export, such as expiry date, and then we are ready," said Kalsakau.
This product was described as a "hot bread product" by many professionals in the field. Samples have been distributed in New Caledonia, where results indicate there is an existing demand. The company is looking at establishing itself there first.
It takes around 400 kilograms of kava to produce more than 700 bottles of kava juice, according to the company director.
"At this point we only buy kava from Epi, simply because it was the original source of our import," says Yoan, "but we want to encourage farmers in all the islands in the group to contact us so we can let them know which kava from their islands we are interested in."
The leading expert on Vanuatu kava Dr Lebot provided the company a list of kavas from each island with the right qualities for this kind of processing, from the Torres to Aneityum.
"Farmers must not plant crops from other islands but continue to plant their own variety, because it is best suitable to their environment," he said. "Growers must be encouraged to keep their varieties alive because we will be interested in all of them."
But that is not where it ends for Agro-products because there is a growing list of products in line.
"We also carried out tests processing jam from local fruits such as pawpaws and mangoes, and managed to give them a two-year shelf life," confirmed Yoan Kalsakau. Agroprocessing also makes chutney and peanut butter and is set to process fruit vinegar and fruit oil from local produce some time this year.
"We want to produce baby food from some of our local crops also, which contain very high protein, such as the red kumala or sweet potato. Furthermore we are already in the process of setting up our next phase, which is the vacuum packaging of local fruits such as namambe. This is already a huge hit in Canada and some major Asian centers such as Singapore. The list of vacuum-packed possibilities is almost endless, including fruit salad which we already have orders for from Fiji."
The icing on the cake is fresh coconut flesh in a tube, "like the tooth paste," Kalsakau said with a smile. The company admits there are endless possibilities now but it all comes back to the farmers having the determination to back them. "We will soon need tons of namambe, but can the farmers continue to supply us consistently? That is very important, once the markets are established overseas, so farmers must be ready to do their part," he added.
"We will be able to take on board more staff as the company grows. So it is not only to export but help give work to farmers, and hopefully to help change the direction of urban drift by some percentage, give more employment opportunities to our people, put our products on shelves at prices reasonable for our people and keep money in Vanuatu rather than send it overseas," said Yoan Kalsakau.
"It is a tough competition ahead and we will need a massive campaign to get people on side, because we are used to purchasing imported stuff and we need public support to keep us going, because this is set up locally by ni-Vanuatu."
Director of Vanuatu Investment Promotion Authority Joe Ligo indicated the venture will be assisted with overseas advertising when it is ready, and encourages the management to continue its good work.
Agroprocessing will be supplying the Vanuatu pavilion at the international trade show about to start in Japan with kava juice being provided for the official opening ceremony of its space. It is understood the minister responsible will be present for the opening to hand kava juice from Agroprocessing to Japanese officials. More than 19 million Japanese have bought tickets to the trade show and the number of expected overseas visitors is yet to be tallied. This could be another boost for the new company in overseas marketing.
Only last Wednesday, the company opened for business and it is situated at the Ifira Stevedoring yard at Vila North. It employs 19 staff and expects to increase staff numbers in the near future as markets open particularly overseas. Agroprocessing is a dream come true for one of Ifira island's prominent businessman, Yoan Kalsakau.
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