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Vanuatu Gov’t and kava exporters react to US competition

Vanuatu Voces del Sur Global
The United States (U.S.) is now growing kava, a plant native to the Pacific Islands, including Vanuatu.

Additionally, there’s a U.S. restaurant company called CAVA Group, Inc. actively pursuing any business with the word “Kava” in its name, even targeting small kava bars, and reportedly unwilling to engage in discussions.

When contacted, Timothy Tumukon, Director General (DG) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry, Fisheries, and Biosecurity (MALFFB), acknowledged the issue.

“‘KAVA’ and ‘CAVA’ sound similar, but ‘CAVA’ is already a registered trademark, creating a naming conflict,” he explained.

“We’re collectively addressing the ‘KAVA’ name issue. Regional governments are collaborating to establish global recognition for our product. However, the ‘CAVA’ versus ‘KAVA’ debate will continue as we devise a regional kava strategy and address its marketing globally.”

He clarified that while the name issue will be addressed in due course, it’s not the government’s immediate priority. “Our focus is on developing a regional kava strategy and marketing our products,” he said.

“The ‘CAVA’ name won’t affect our kava product marketing since the spellings differ. However, it’s important for people to understand that while the names may sound alike, the products are different. We must ensure this understanding.”

Jonathan Naupa, a Kava Exporter for Mount Kava, pointed out that the majority of farmers in Vanuatu who grow kava are small subsistence farmers.

“They cultivate kava as a cash crop to cover expenses like their children’s education, medical bills, building materials, and community events,” he said.

“Their kava farms serve as a family savings fund for unforeseen expenses. Unlike other places, there’s no culture of credit or loans here in Vanuatu; farmers rely on selling kava for cash to manage unexpected costs and emergencies.

“The U.S. is a major export market for Vanuatu kava. Any kava production in the U.S. aimed at tapping into their market will affect Ni-Vanuatu farmers and their remote island communities. The adverse impact on these small farmers could ripple through Vanuatu’s economy.

“It would be good if the kava community in Vanuatu treats these U.S. importers as pariahs and boycott them from buying Vanuatu kava.”

Mr. Naupa said farmers should consider not selling kava to local exporters that are supporting U.S. importers that are trying to keep the whole cake or pie to themselves.

“These U.S. individuals don’t have a market beyond current Vanuatu exports and need money now, so boycotting them will make their situation tougher,” he said.

“Technically, if the U.S. growers are using Hawaiian cultivars, there isn’t much we can do except wish them luck. However, greed can lead to problems if they’re not careful.

“This situation may strain their relationships with existing Vanuatu suppliers and distract U.S. importers from their core business. These newcomers aren’t experienced farmers or large agricultural companies.

“On the other side of the coin, it’s time for Vanuatu to focus on branding, standards, and its unique position in the market as the home of kava.”
   Kava House exporter and company owner, Member of Parliament (MP) Gloria Julia King, thinks otherwise.

“I don’t think so. It cannot affect our marketing because of our kava varieties and our natural soil. Everything is organic. But I don’t know how they plant it. Maybe they treat the plant with some chemicals, and the benefits or the products will not be the same as ours,” she said.

Another exporter named The Original Expression, owned by Wong Antony, shared a similar sentiment.

“At the moment, I see that there is only one person who plants kava in the U.S. and exports it. But really, it may affect the market in the U.S., where their product will be much cheaper for them to buy than their own product. However, for the marketing in other countries, it does not affect them.

“This is because our product is organic, and for them, growing it will not even match half of the quality of our products. Yes, it may affect the marketing in the U.S., but for other countries that are importing our product, there will be no effect on our marketing.”

However, according to Vanuatu Bureau of Statistics (VBoS) data, Kava Exports Quantity in ton for the March quarter 2021 to March quarter 2023 increased by 219 ton over the March quarter 2022 from 132 ton to 351 ton in the March quarter 2023. This indicates an increase in exports, suggesting that the issue has no effect on the international market at this stage.

Identificador Sitio web Ecos del Sur
The Vanuatu Daily Post

The Vanuatu Daily Post

The Vanuatu Daily Post, launched in 1993, is the only daily newspaper in Vanuatu. Since 2003, it punishes the official tourism newspaper of the Vanuatu Tourism office (What To Do In Vanuatu) and has launched a popular radio station called 96 BUZZ FM. It received assistance from the Australian government through Pacmas Media Innovation Fund for the development of this web site.
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