Weather coast farmers bet on kava production

May 15, 2011

Kava is a promising crop for remote areas such as the weather coast

This is a story about KGA efforts to help farmers in isolated areas. KGA has been trialling alternative cash crops including kava, coffee, pepper and cardamom. This is a story about one farmers experience with Kava on the weather coast of Guadalcanal.

The garden that John is standing is normal in all respects but one: in this garden planted among the sweet potatoes and cassava is about a hectare of Kava trees.

The Planting Material Network farmer is part of a small group of farmers in the Weather Coast who are betting that kava will be a profitable alternative crop.

John needed an alternative. He had a long career as a copra farmer, but found it much less attractive after the quota buyout.

“Kava grown for a gourmet market looks better than copra right now,” he says. “If we can keep the diseases out, there’s a whole lot less management involved than in cocoa or copra. You don’t have any of the intense cocoa practices like topping, priming and curing or like in copra you have to do a lot of labor work.

“I think I can make more per acre on kava than on copra. If we can come up with a brand product, that will be even better.”

The planting material has come from Kastom Gaden Association. Under the Sustainable Livelihood for Rural and Isolated Areas Program (SLIRAP) cash crops such as kava plants, black pepper, card amount have been shared widely and John was able to get a few cutting from a relative.

“There were coconut plantations all around,” he says. “The price of copra was low, so we needed a new crop. I looked at vanilla initially, but startup seemed cost prohibitive, and the weather here is rainy. Copra and Cocoa are very labor intensive as I am old now. Although I would have to wait five years for a saleable crop.”

So he started looking for something else, and kava growing struck him as a good candidate. He grew a test crop in 2006 and was satisfied with the results last year (2010), and he has grown several crops since. He later started growing a new variety of kava plants.

Then, another possibility turned up unexpectedly, this year the price of chips and roots have gone up. There was an added bonus:” the buyer Varivao Holdings taught me how to harvest the crop and for the last four market trips the quality was graded A”.

“I would like to grow 4 acres,” he says. “I would encourage other farmers to grow kava and follow good farming practices.”

To date, there have been six individual kava farmers under the Vuranini catchment area who have had prior experience growing kava. I think if we can form an association or market group we can reduce the cost of travel to Honiara and maybe secure a contract with the buyer.

There are many key practices but one is careful gathering. A farmer has to be willing to harvest with tender loving care. “You have to put them in the sun carefully,” he says. “This crop has to look good.”

A good labor supply is a must, he says. “I have my small army to harvest.”

Once harvested kava roots and chips are hand washed and dried in the sun for three to four days.

At the same time the farmer has been developing his kava farm, he has been growing marketable quantities of the kava trees.

“We have some loyal customers already for roots and chips,” says John.

“If we can develop this product at the village level I believe that would be another market opportunity for us”