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Surge in kava demand spurs export boom for Pacific nations

Mildly narcotic drink has consumers hooked, but health concerns persist

Kava is mixed at a ceremony in Fiji. (Courtesy Fiji Ministry of Information)

AUCKLAND -- The cost of kava, a muddy and mildly narcotic beverage once reserved for Pacific Island chiefs, has quadrupled in some markets, prompting politicians to consider price controls. But in rural areas in the island states, earnings from the kava boom are changing lives for the better.

Kava, usually made from the root of piper methysticum, a modern cultivar of a native western Pacific shrub, has risen in popularity around the world. In the Pacific Islands, the mouthwash-tasting liquid was traditionally made in a ceremony in which the roots were pounded and mixed with water. The mixture was then offered in a coconut shell.

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