Boosting Standards for Vanuatu Kava

Kava is an important agricultural commodity for Vanuatu, forming an integral part of cultural, economic and social life. Export opportunities for the commodity however, are at times hindered due to concerns over the quality of certain varieties. PHAMA is helping differentiate between varieties of kava and ensure quality of exports.

12 colorimeters – instruments used to measure the absorbance of a specific wavelength of light to confirm the quality of the kava – have been handed over to the Vanuatu kava industry to aid in the implementation of the National Quality Standard for the Export of Kava. Kava is Vanuatu’s third largest export commodity and is an important export earning crop for the country.

Extracts of noble and non-noble kava. Far left, the first four test tubes show the yellow colour of the noble varieties; the next five test tubes show the orange/light brown colour of the tudei varieties and the last three test tubes on the right show the colour of the wild kava varieties.

Provided by the Australia and New Zealand-funded Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access (PHAMA) Program, the colorimeters will be used to differentiate narafala kava from noble kava. This will in turn help Vanuatu to maintain access to existing markets and protect its reputation as a kava exporter by ensuring that only high-grade kava is exported.

The research that resulted in the development of the colorimetric test was through a collaboration between the PHAMA program, CIRAD (French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development) through Dr Vincent Lebot (a world respected kava researcher), and Professor Laurent Legendre from the University of Lyon. The basic colorimetric test was based on findings from High Performance Thin Layer Chromatography (HPTLC) assay which showed that acetone root extracts of each group of cultivars had a typical colour. P. wichmannii extracts are dark brown, extracts of tudei cultivars are orange/ light brown, and extracts of noble cultivars are faint yellow.

Addressing kava quality issues and implementing the National Quality Standard for Kava Export from Vanuatu was a challenge because of the presence of several kava cultivars such as P. wichmannii and tudei kava. With the introduction of the colorimetric test, the regulators and stakeholders in Vanuatu will be able to implement the agreed quality standard. 

In partnership with the Vanuatu Government, the PHAMA Program supports training of kava industry participants on the use and maintenance of the colorimeters. This training is delivered by the Food Technology and Development Centre’s Analytical Unit. PHAMA has ordered an additional 15 colorimeters to support implementation and roll out of the quality standard.

PHAMA is also supporting a nursery program in collaboration with Vanuatu’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD). This will ensure farmers have access to resilient noble kava seedlings.

Given the significance of kava to Pacific livelihoods, PHAMA continues to support efforts to improve the quality of exports, and developing techniques to differentiate between tudei and noble varieties of kava.

The colorimeters will be distributed to exporters and growers by the Vanuatu Kava Industry Association or VKIA (formerly known as the Kava Industry Working Group), which has agreed to support the relevant authorities to implement the standard through promotion of the standard’s principles.

For further information, contact Rebecca Bogiri at or on +678-7736016 


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