Safeguarding Pacific Livelihoods and the Pacific’s Vital Kava Sector

Farmers at their Kava farm in Vanua Levu, Fiji.

Well before Australia announced it was opening up to commercial imports of kava, cultivation of the crop in Pacific Island nations such as Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands had been growing at great pace, bringing economic benefits to farmers and communities in the region.

To bolster this expanding sector, the Safe Agriculture Trade Facilitation through Economic integration in the Pacific (SAFE Pacific) project seeks to support small Pacific Island countries to increase export capacity of crops such as kava, thereby improving economic growth.

Funded by the European Union and implemented by the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Land Resources Division, SAFE Pacific will focus on four key commodities: kava, turmeric, coconut and coffee.

SAFE Pacific’s work around kava recognises that while there is great economic potential in kava growing, processing and exports, this should not be at the expense of the environment.

With high and growing demand driving an increase in production and the need for more fertile land, there are serious concerns over the environmental impact of increased kava cultivation. In addition to exhausting soil health, unsustainable kava production practices such as deforestation through slash and burn agriculture will have a devasting effect on the long-term sustainability of the kava industry and significantly threatens forests and biodiversity.

In response to these challenges, the SAFE Pacific project will work on promoting sustainable agricultural methods including agroforestry, a land management system that increases production and ecological stability. Sound agroforestry practices would, for example, ensure that crops such as kava are interplanted amongst trees and shrubs, reducing soil erosion while maintaining soil health.

Working with farmers and selected micro, small & medium enterprises (MSME), SAFE Pacific will provide mentoring, training and capacity building to promote sustainable, environmentally friendly and disaster resilient practices.

Sustainable kava production also creates opportunities for market certification and access to export pathways. Pacific Island nations face considerable barriers to export markets. They are geographically distant from larger markets. Transport, marketing and distribution costs are high, and meeting international trade requirements can be challenging.

SAFE Pacific will look at improving market access for kava, including implementing the Economic Partnership Agreement to improve access to EU-Pacific States. This will involve engagement in business-to-business meetings, industry learning visits and trade shows. Training will also be offered on good practices in production, distribution chains and quality compliance.

The other focus areas under SAFE Pacific are:

  • Strengthening biosecurity to ensure agricultural products such as kava are safe for humans and do not introduce plant or animal pests. This may include strengthening biosecurity services, laws and protocols and training of biosecurity officers. Access to internationally accredited plant diagnostic labs will also be improved, and a pesticide registration scheme established to ensure safe, sustainable use of pesticides.

  • Establishing early-warning systems and emergency plans to strengthen surveillance, monitoring and identification of biosecurity risks.

  • Strengthening sustainable agriculture value chains for products such as kava, and creating opportunities to access market certification in areas such as organics, food safety, traceability and social justice. There is a growing market demand for certification as consumers become more aware and sensitive about the products they are consuming.

  • Improving access to local and export markets. This will include training, technical assistance and equipment for selected MSMEs, and supporting their participation in trade shows. Training will help ensure MSMEs and their suppliers can consistently meet supply needs, both in terms of volume and quality.

  • Improving and strengthening compliance with international standards. The SAFE Pacific project will work with certifying bodies to develop audit trainings and tool kits to identify and train skilled auditors across the Pacific.

  • The project will also develop a regional certification mechanism to support farmers, MSMEs and enterprises. It will provide capacity building and direct support for upgrades, processes and quality improvements in order to attain certification.

SPC’s Land Resources Division

As implementers of SAFE Pacific, the SPC’s Land Resources Division works through four major pillars to support sustainable management of natural resources and biodiversity. They are:

  • Genetic resources: conservation, management and sharing of plants and forest genetic material

  • Sustainable forests and landscapes management: land use planning, forests and landscape management

  • Sustainable agriculture: plant health, animal health and production, soils and agricultural extension

  • Markets for livelihoods: facilitation of trade through development of standards and certification systems.

The SAFE Pacific project takes elements from all four pillars, providing for an integrated and sustainable approach.

Investing in the future

The EU has made a EUR 10.5 million investment in the SAFE Pacific project.

Speaking at the project launch in Noumea, the Ambassador of the European Union for the Pacific, H.E. Sujiro Seam said, ‘‘As the region progressively reopens to build back better, international trade plays a crucial role. The SAFE Pacific project enhances the capabilities of Pacific Island Countries to comply with regulatory obligations, such as biosecurity and quarantine measures, as well as rules intended to safeguard product quality and safety. It lays the foundation to increase exports and thus strengthen regional and international trade, including trade between the Pacific Island Countries and the EU thanks to the Economic Partnership Agreement.”

SPC’s Director-General Stuart Minchin said, “SAFE Pacific comes at a critical time when the region grapples with the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and severe natural disasters, reaffirming the importance of collaborative action to pave a way forward in the near and long-term for post-COVID recovery.”

The project is underway in Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.

Pacific kava farmers live in some of our most economically disadvantaged areas. The support from SAFE Pacific to strengthen sustainable value chains will bring the kava industry closer to fulfilling its potential in an environmentally sustainable way, thereby contributing towards the economic empowerment of Pacific communities, creating jobs, tackling poverty and improving livelihoods.