By Len Garae in Port Vila
The writing is on the wall for the fate of Peter Colmar’s kava exporting company, Sarami Plantation, now that the Minister of Agriculture, Matai Seremaiah has said: “I strongly recommend that the Vanuatu Commodities Marketing Board (VCMB) terminate his export licence forthwith”.
The minister sent the short instruction to the Acting Director-General (ADG) of Trade, George Borugu, this week.
The minister recommended to the ADG to ask the board to take drastic steps to deal with Sarami Plantation in the face of growing concerns abroad, especially from Dr Mathias Schmidt in Germany and the Vanuatu Ambassador to the European Union, Roy Mickey Joy, in Brussels, both of whom fought tooth and nail to successfully defend the Pacific kava-producing countries’ export market in Europe.
Their tireless commitments since the kava ban in 2001, finally resulted in the ruling by the German Administrative Court to lift the kava ban in 2014.
In his urgent email to Ambassador Joy this week, Dr Schmidt wrote: “Today on Tuesday, January 10, I received a complaint from the US: they are being drowned in two-day kava, all exported from Peter Colmar in Santo. He is operating as ‘Sarami Plantation’, shipping ground, leaves and stalks as ‘kava’ to the US via New Zealand.”
Dr Schmidt listed the following export figures for 2016:
• Kumars Import: 25.82 tons
• Naturex Inc.: 24.52 tons
• Concentrated Alie Corps.: 7.02 tons and
• Starwest Botanicals: 2 tons
Dr Schmidt explained: “That’s almost 60 tons of non-noble non-root material sold as kava in 2016 by just one exporter. I thought the Vanuatu Kava Act had been changed, but if someone like Sarami Plantation can sell such quantities without any consequences, there must be more than just one person closing their eyes.
“We need to stop this before the next catastrophe happens.”
In his letter to the Director of Biosecurity, Ambassador Joy wrote: “I am shocked and alarmed by the way and the manner in which Mr Peter Colmar has continued to conduct his shipment with ‘blind eyes’ from your staff and even those in the Customs and Border Controls.
“I am lost for words but can only compel the way and the easy manner by which the ‘Sarami Plantation’ has continued to effectively trade its kava shipment against all odds and without any sense of regularity control or SPS from our authorities.”
Ambassador Joy said he was disappointed that he and his exceptional team had spent six solid years and substantial resources to eventually revive the kava trade in Europe, only for one company to come in and destroy everything by exporting trash instead of noble kava.
He continued: “I am appealing to you to launch a swift investigation into the conduct of ‘Sarami Plantation’ and withdraw its export licence as soon as possible.”
The ambassador also copied his letter to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Meanwhile, the owner of the export company, Peter Colmar, lives in China and is understood to visit Vanuatu on a regular basis.
No call back
The Daily Post called Sarami Plantation in Luganville to speak to someone responsible concerning the reports leveled at the company.
In the latest development, all kava growers and exporters have from now until the end of next month to clean up their operations and cease for good, from the sale or export of two-day kava or kava mixed with ‘makas’ (adulterated kava).
The new Kava Export Standard is going to come into force on March 1 and all kava exporters are expected to comply with it.
The Biosecurity Director has already given the warning to all kava farmers and exporters from Luganville and Port Vila. He is reiterating the warning again because he has received pictures of dishes of ‘makas’ from his officers in Luganville only two days ago.
The director said: “My officers went to a particular nakamal and found kava ‘makas’ placed on the roof to dry. When they asked why, the owner confirmed a company is buying the ‘makas’ for export.”
He said Sarami Plantation is reported to be buying and mixing kava ‘makas’ with real kava for export to the United States.
The report has already reached the European Union.
Appeal to government
Asked to comment, he replied: “We at Biosecurity are appealing to the government to gazette the Kava Act Amendment of 2015 to give us extra-legal enforcement power to enforce kava export.
“While the existing law already provides us with legal power, we need the extra legal backing to put stricter control measures against farmers and exporters and other people for that matter, in particular owners of kava bars who sell ‘makas’ to the exporters”.
As of the middle of next month, all farmers are warned to stop selling two-day kava to buyers for local consumption and kava exporters.
The new law comes into effect on March 1 and if kava farmers and exporters are caught still selling and exporting two-day kava, the Director of Biosecurity reiterated that they would go one step further by blacklisting those farmers by advising exporters not to buy anymore kava from them.
“We are prepared to take such drastic measures to clean up the industry of kava export”, he confirmed.
Len Garae is a senior Vanuatu Daily Post journalist.