The University of the South Pacific (USP) student Azekah Swamy this month received a scholarship as part of a private-public collaborative partnership between the University and Kava Korporesen Pte Limited.
The objective of the one-year scholarship is to enhance research in kava (Piper methysticum) focusing on the crop’s chemistry, kava extraction, isolation, and purification processes for food grade application.
Kava is attracting global interest as a health supplement and has recently become a highly demanded pharmaceutical product. Last year a meeting of kava exporters was organised by the American Embassy where Kava Korporesen Pte Limited Director and Founder, Mr John Sanday, talked about the 7 per cent gap in kava exports that Fiji farmers need to meet.
In 2017, Fiji recorded 37.9 per cent in kava exports and the figures have gradually increased in the past 4 years. There has been calls by kava industry players (including Kava Korporesen) to raise the bar in the quality and image (washing processes and packaging) of kava being exported.
USP has been at the forefront in advancing the industry through its research on kava through its Institute of Applied Sciences (IAS).
Ms Swamy said she was thrilled to receive the scholarship and to be given the opportunity to assist Fiji’s Kava industry.
“I was interested in this scholarship because it deals with natural products,” she said.
Ms Swamy is currently pursuing her Postgraduate Diploma in Science at USP.
She said “more needs to be done to promote Fiji’s kava and collaborating with Kava farmers in Fiji can diversify their respective kava products,” she said.
Mr John Sanday congratulated Ms Swamy and said he looks forward to learning about new ideas that will benefit the kava industry.
“There is a need to look at ways to improve kava branding to international markets. The sole reason the company has come on board to support this important approach is to improve the quality and image of Fiji kava,” he said.
IAS Acting Director, Dr Isoa Korovulavula thanked Mr Sanday for the partnership.
He said the collaboration between Kava Korporesen and the University will surely develop the capacity of Pacific islanders in the area of kava research so that they can better assist stakeholders in the kava industry.
“This opens up new opportunities that will benefit the kava industry through new knowledge and possibly new products,” he said.
Kava lactone analysis at the IAS started in 2004 with industry partners Taki Mai, IAS Laboratory Manager, Mr. Usaia Dolodolotawake and collaborators in Germany and Hawaii.
From 2004 to 2014 research on Kava at USP was carried out under the supervision of the former Director of IAS, late Prof. William (Bill) Aalbersberg. Assisting Prof. Bill then was the former IAS Lab Manager, late Mr Usaia Dolodolotawake, who was a kava “Guru” in his own right.
In 2014, Taki Mai products were launched at the Ministry of Agriculture.
In 2017, the Research and Development on Kava at USP was reinitiated by Dr Vincent Lal and IAS laboratory technician, Jeremiah Koroijiuta, who was trained at IAS in testing kavalactones in Kava. Mr Koroijiuta now serves as a representative of USP on the Fiji Kava Council.
The private-public partnership resulting in this research scholarship is the result of almost 2 years of negotiations between IAS and Kava Korporesen Pte Limited
Azekah Swamy was awarded her scholarship on 11th March 2021.