Kava crisis as Cyclone Pam devastates Vanuatu cultural crop

Kava crisis as Cyclone Pam devastates Vanuatu cultural crop

Stephen Coates for Reuters

PORT VILA (Reuters) – The sprinkling of fairy lights on the roadside was the only sign of life as darkness descended and a curfew began in Vanuatu’s shattered capital, Port Vila, in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam this week.

Ignoring calls to stay at home, men were gathering among the debris of blasted trees and twisted corrugated iron to swap news of the storm over a drink of kava, a mildly intoxicating brew that is deeply embedded in the social fabric of Pacific islanders.

Vanuatu escaped the worst with only 11 people confirmed dead. But as the rebuild begins, one concern is for the devastated kava crop, a major export and vital source of cash for subsistence farmers in the South Pacific island nation.

“The economy will be seriously affected. The tourism sector will be affected … Kava will also be affected,” Prime Minister Joe Natuman told Reuters in Port Vila.

Vincent Lebot, a French geneticist based in Vanuatu, said that while accurate data was hard to come by, it appeared about a third of the country’s kava crop had been destroyed.

For the residents of the southern island of Tanna in particular, the loss was a huge blow. Tanna took the full force of the cyclone as it moved south with gusts topping 300 kph (185 mph).
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