Vanuatu’s kava expert, Dr Vincent Lebot, has thanked Australian scientists, especially Professor Jerome Sarris, for studying the properties of kava to fight anxiety disorders.

This has resulted in a potential market developing in Australia for kava to be used as an alternative to benzodiazepines (synthetic molecules used for anxiety relieving pills and capsules) but without the dependency and side effects generated by these molecules.

Dr. Lebot made the comment following Australia’s slight relaxation of its policy on Vanuatu’s kava exports to Australia.

He says the impact will not be obvious overnight; it will take a while and will be a slow process.

If Australia does not authorise or legalise kava bars, it is likely the “market” will remain very small.

For someone entering Australia on a ship or aircraft, aged 18 years or over, he may import up to two kilograms of kava in either root or dried powder form in his accompanied baggage, without a permit.

This is to make sure that he will use it for his own personal consumption and that he will not open a “kava bar” like in the United State or New Caledonia, the main markets for Vanuatu kava.

Kava being a natural and traditional beverage has great potential but it should be marketed as a beverage (like tea or coffee) and not a potential drug or Vanuatu could face the same problems encountered in Europe in the late ‘90s, Lebot said.

Dr. Lebot says this is why all Pacific Island Countries are investing a lot of efforts to develop “Codex Alimentarius” regional standards (under the Food And Agriculture Organization (FAO)/World Health Organization (WHO)) to make sure that kava is recognised internationally as a safe recreational, social, beverage, just like tea and coffee.

He says, “It is safe if someone doesn’t abuse and doesn’t look for intoxication.

“Consumers need to be educated in Australia so that they can enjoy the beverage in a safe manner.

“If it is not consumed properly, it is likely that accidents will occur and that kava will be blamed, and this will be very sad for producers here in Vanuatu.”

The idea is to promote kava as a safe beverage under the auspices of the FAO/WHO and the future will be bright.

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