Can digitalisation support improved efficiency and transparency within kava value chains?

Kava is one of Fiji’s most important agricultural commodities. The PARDI2 team has been working with Fiji Kava, a market leader in kava processing, to develop an internal control system that assists external kava suppliers to comply with third party organic certification. Building on this work, Fiji Kava requested PARDI2 to investigate the possibility of digitising the internal control system for easier management of data.

The boom, bust, boom years

Fiji kava and kava products have dramatically changed over the last 20 years. During the late 1990s a strong demand for medicinal and pharmaceutical kava in Europe led to a major kava boom with export sales many times greater than current levels. After claims of liver damage to a few patients in Germany due to kava toxicity, this boom came to an abrupt end in 2001 with many European countries banning the importation of kava and kava products. The claims were strongly disputed, and were eventually dismissed by the WHO, followed by the ban lifted in 2015.

Since then and with recent support from Codex, Kava is experiencing another boom, but the current kava market is very different. The largest amount of kava is being traded within Fiji and between Pacific Island Countries for beverages consumed socially and for relaxation. Outside the region kava is consumed both as a beverage and as a more natural alternative to sleep and anti-anxiety medication. As a beverage it is increasingly sold in high end fresh-pack packaging in its ready-to-mix powder form, as an instant mix that does not require straining, and in a pre-mixed bottled form with a variety of flavours.

Growth potential

The US market is considered to have good growth potential with a number of new kava bars offering high prices for good quality kava. Although the domestic market dominates, kava exports are still an important source of revenue for Fiji relative to other agricultural export commodities. During 2019, kava raked in $FJD 32.5 million in exports, being one of the country’s top commodities. In terms of Fiji’s GDP, kava has increasingly contributed, from making up 8.2% of the agricultural GDP in 2011 to 20.8% in 2015. It is one of the most important cash crops in some rural areas, employing large numbers of people in harvesting, processing, retail operations and supporting over 10,000 smallholder kava farmers.

The PHAMA programme has undertaken significant work in the sector to improve market access, including conducting a survey of kava production, developing a kava quality manual, establishing local kava standards, and supporting the development of regulations to accompany the current Kava Bill.

Despite fluctuating export volumes, the value of kava exports has grown strongly due to price increases and reached a record FJD 14.2 million in 2016.

No. of Kava growers10,400 (1 in 8 rural households)
Area of crop4000 – 5000 hectares
Area harvested annually1000 – 2000 hectares
Yield 2.6 – 2.8 tonnes/ha harvested
Kava produced4000 – 4500 tonnes dry weight
Imports100 tonnes dry weight
Exports250 tonnes dry weight
Shrinkage, wastage and losses600 – 650 tonnes dry weight
Domestic Consumption3300 – 3700 tonnes dry weight
Fiji Kava in numbers (PHAMA, 2018)


The majority of Fiji’s kava farmers are iTaukei non-mechanised smallholders, utilising less than one hectare of mataqali land and using a combination of family and hired labour. Overall, only 2.1% of kava growers are women, more involved in nursery and maintenance. One of the biggest challenges faced by processors and exporters is the quality of the kava they receive. Often it is not properly washed and dried, and requires rewashing and re-drying, resulting in lost time, money and weight losses of 15-20%.

As kava prices drive an expansion of farming, in particular into forest areas, there is an increasingly urgent need to consider organic kava production and agroforestry systems as a way of farming kava sustainably, improving market access and sustaining the industry in the long run.

Exploring digitalisation

In exploring the viability of digitising the internal control system to support compliance with third party organic certification, PARDI2 took a three-stage approach: to understand the current levels of and capacity to digitise operations amongst farmers; to assess the requirements for digitising operations for a local kava agribusiness; and to begin a checklist for agribusinesses considering the digitalisation of their own operations.

The PARDI2 team presented early findings at the Fiji Institute of Agricultural Science Symposium in December 2020 with a report due for publication in March. A clear message in the report’s findings is that while the kava industry can be greatly assisted by relevant digitalisation, the foundation rests in regular and consistent data collection and record-keeping. The relationship between record-keeping and improved farm outputs is not widely understood, nor are records fully utilised. Farmers need support to understand the benefits of maintaining proper records to their own farming business and management.

In 2017 and 2018, FAO and the International Telecommunication Union developed an e-agriculture strategy guide for countries interested in developing their own national digital agriculture strategies to promote digital infrastructure, improve digital literacy among farmers, and to develop associated policies. In January 2020, FAO and other international organisations proposed a new International Council for Food and Agriculture, a multi-stakeholder forum that would work closely with existing mechanisms to identify the benefits and risks of digitalisation, facilitate dialogue between all stakeholders and propose measures to build trust and promote the adoption of digital technologies.

There are great strides to be made in the area of digitalisation in Fiji’s agricultural sector. The market drivers and high price of kava, make this particular industry a good place to start. The e-agriculture revolution may be coming sooner than we think.

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