Legalize kava production, says Bundaberg Regional Council in DFAT submission

A local government in Queensland has sought to cultivate a crop that has been banned in Australia for more than 20 years because it is considered a medicine.

The Bundaberg Regional Council (BRC) has made a request to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to test kava production in Australia.

Vanuatu Kava Industry Association president Michael Louze said he was shocked.

“I was a little squeamish because Australia has banned kava for over 15 years and just to say they are going to grow it now as it becomes the main source of income for small farmers in the South Pacific. , it’s very hypocritical, ”he said.

But BRC Mayor Jack Dempsey has said he wants to work with those communities.

“We are looking for innovation and science to find out how we can add value,” he said.

“I think as the conversation with kava spreads and how we can support the islands, we can actually help them.”

The idea arose when the council struck a twin city agreement with Luganville in Vanuatu.

Luganville Mayor Peter Patty and Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey have signed a twin city agreement.(Provided: Bundaberg Regional Council)

Cultural significance

Kava is considered an essential part of traditional ceremonies in Pacific island communities.

Vanuatu’s High Commissioner to Australia, Samson Fare, said it was used at events such as weddings and funerals.

The traditional drink is made by crushing the roots and rhizome of the kava plant and mixing them with water.

It is also consumed socially in the world according to Mr. Louze.

“We have a growing market in New Zealand – you go to downtown Auckland and you have kava bars where you can enjoy kava at night,” he said.

“There are 200 to 250 kava bars in the United States and many other places.”

Three Samoan women prepare to make kava.  They are seated on mats lined up in front of a screen of plants and tapas.
Kava is a traditional drink consumed by Pacific Island communities socially and during ceremonies. Photographed by an unknown photographer circa 1890.(Communal room)

Mr Louze said he was angry with the Council’s announcement, but hopes it might help Australia learn more about kava.

“There are people who need their coffee in the morning to give themselves a boost. Australians will find it is the same with kava – you have kava in the afternoon to relax. . ”

“Seems like it’s a never-ending story”

Australia banned imports over 20 years ago due to the abuse of the drink in some remote indigenous communities.

The federal government announced a small commercial import trial last year that was postponed until the end of 2021.

Large kava roots wrapped in raffia string.
The traditional drink is made by crushing the roots and rhizome of the kava plant and mixing them with water.(Common: Hsz282)

It also increased the amount people can bring into the country for personal use from 2 to 4 kilograms.

Mr Louze said they were not convinced the trial would proceed.

“There is talk of lifting the ban on kava in Australia for so many years,” he said.

“It’s not a one-year harvest”

Mr Dempsey said growing it in Australia could help increase the amount of kava on the world market.

“There is a limitation of space within these particular islands,” he said.

“The market is growing all over the world and they are looking for safe places and markets to be able to benefit their country of origin.”

Mr Fare said Vanuatu and other Pacific island countries did not suffer from production shortfalls

“If Australia opened up the market, there would be enough product to export here,” he said.

“In order to be able to export kava to the Australian market as part of the commercial pilot project, we have to do a lot of work.”

A close up of green leaves in the shape of a heart.
The leaves of the kava plant are crushed, releasing chemicals that have a sedative effect.(Common: Forest and Kim Starr)

Mr Louze said he doubted it could be grown successfully in Australia anyway.

“It’s not a one-year crop, it takes at least 3 to 4 years before you can harvest it,” Louze said.

He said kava would put even more pressure on the labor shortage in the agricultural industry

“Australia already has a lot of labor issues, it needs to import labor from the Pacific,” Louze said.

“Kava takes a lot of work. You can talk about mechanization, but America has tried it and so far they have had very little success.”

Elna M. Lemons