What helps separate the exceptional kavas produced in Vanuatu from other areas of the world is the long and honored tradition kava cultivation plays in Vanuatuan culture. Often passed down from one generation to the next, Ni-Vanuatu have developed and refined growing techniques that enable farmers to produce hearty crops of potent kava year after year.
Recently, Bula’s own Judd Rench had the opportunity to discuss kava cultivation with Ni-Vanuatu farmer Nickson Tosu, a 27-year-old farmer from the village of Fanafo on the island Espiritu Santo.
Judd: How much land do you farm?
Nickson: I farm two to three hectares (5 to 7.5 acres) of land.
Judd: Do you work alone in your garden, does your family help, or does the entire community work together?
Nickson: My garden is worked by just me and my family.
Judd: How do you plant kava cutting for the growth of new plants?
Nickson: I wake up in the morning, have my breakfast, get my bush knife filed. I get my families together to help with the garden work. Before we plant the kava cuttings, we clear an area of the land in the forest. Once the area of land is cleared, I get my kava cuttings from my other garden of kavas and get them planted in the new cleared land. I dig holes and plant the kava cuttings. After three months, I check on the plants and weed the grasses to make sure the new kava plants are not being destroyed by the grasses.
Judd: How long have you been growing kava?
Nickson: I’ve been planting kava since I was in class 2.
Judd: What other plants do you grow along with kava?
Nickson: My kava grows well and healthy when planted with peanuts. I also plant tomatoes and capsicum with my kava.
Judd: What is your favorite type of kava?
Nickson: My favorite type of kava is bir kar.
Judd: Why do you enjoy drinking kava?
Nickson: Drinking kava at night is relaxing and I enjoy socializing with friends while drinking kava. I feel fresh and ready the next morning to start off my day’s work in the garden.
Judd: What challenges do you face when growing kava?
Nickson: The weather.
Judd: How do you protect kava from pests, drought, disease, and whatever other obstacles you might face?
Nickson: I have no problem with pests and diseases. My kavas are mainly affected by drought. The last time my kavas were affected by drought was 2015-2016.
Judd: What would help improve your ability to grow more kava in your garden?
Nickson: I really need a tractor for my farm. Having a tractor will help me work more quickly clearing areas of the forest for my kava and also help with plowing the ground for planting.
Judd: Is there something you’d rather be doing for an income rather than farming?
Nickson: I have been planting kava with my mum and dad since I was a kid, that’s why I like planting kava. Kava money is way better than any other work.
Judd: Is there anything you’d like to know about American kava drinkers/sellers?
Nickson: My only question to them is, do you like drinking kava as much as I do?
Judd: How much kava do you drink a day?
Nickson: There are different occasions. If I’m working by myself in the garden during the day, I can have 3 to 4 shells of strong kava. If I get my families to help work in my garden, I will have to prepare them food and also a bucket of kava for the family to drink before they head home at the end of the day.