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A comeback for kava

The market for Kava collapsed in 2000 following health fears
The market for Kava collapsed in 2000 following health fears

Smallholder farmers in the South Pacific now have the backing of a WHO report in their battle to rebuild their business of exporting dried kava. The market for extracts of the plant Piper Methysticum - which had developed as a major source of income for many of the islands of Vanuatu - collapsed in 2000 when allegations were made that consumption of the herbal product, renowned as a natural treatment for stress and anxiety, could lead to liver damage. Many European countries banned imports and Australia followed suit with tight import restrictions. Farming incomes plummeted and kava plots were abandoned.

Now the WHO Assessment of the Risk of Hepatotoxicity with Kava Products, which appears to rule out a link between kava and liver damage, has been welcomed by the kava business. Chief Selwyn, one of Vanuatu's most senior tribal leaders, is relieved "This is the scientific proof we needed to tell the world that our kava is good for health. We want to rebuild farmer incomes". Other observers are more cautious. According to Dr Vincent Lebot, a specialist working in kava production for the last twenty years, the damage to the industry is deep and lasting. "In Europe, consumers are already scared of kava," he said. "We always knew kava is safe to consume. Whatever science says to prove this, I fear that the damage is already done."

Date published: September 2007


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