Rum from Polynesia: Marotea Vitrac, Farm Manager of Mana’o

Marotea Vitrac, Farm Manager of Mana’o and President of the Syndicat de Défense de l’Indication Géographique du Rhum Agricole de Polynésie française.

Rhum de Polynésie

Fabien Humbert: What is the Syndicat de Défense de l’Indication Géographique du Rhum Agricole de Polynésie française?

Marotea Vitrac: It is a union that gathers the Polynesian distillers. It aims to defend our know-how by obtaining a protected geographical indication and also to develop the agricultural sector.

FH: What are the obstacles to the development of rum in Polynesia?

MV: Difficult access to land which prevents us from planting enough sugar cane. A lack of scientific supervision regarding the diseases that can be contracted by the cane. We need to have the analyses taken care of by the Department of Agriculture.

We also have obstacles to export because our tax system does not allow us to export at the same price as our colleagues in the DOM on the mainland market.

For the time being, we do not have any less taxed quotas. However, we are in advanced talks to divide the excise duties by two. This is included in the Tax Code but it still needs to be validated by the European Commission.

FH: On the other hand, what could help the development of the sector?

MV: To begin, all of the previously mentioned brakes be removed. Concerning sugar cane, it would be necessary to facilitate access to state-owned land for farmers, in particular through the leasing of land for a modest price by the Direction des Affaires Foncières at the Direction de l’Agriculture.

Rhum de Polynésie

Today, there are a few private initiatives that invest in land and plant sugarcane, but this is not enough to develop an agricultural sector. We are also working on the implementation of aids for access to plots of land, as well as aids for sugar cane planting, and we are considering the possibility of an agricultural minimum wage.

This requires a lot of talks with the authorities of the different archipelagos. We cannot count only on Tahiti to develop the sector and reach 1000 hectares of sugarcane, we must also rely on the Austral Islands, the Marquesas, the Tuamotus…

FH: Did you say 1000 hectares of sugar cane?

MV: My goal is to have 1,000 hectares of sugarcane planted in French Polynesia within 20 years. I am aware that this is ambitious, given that we are currently at about 50 hectares.

But with our Rangiroa rum, we have shown that we can grow sugarcane and make rums on atolls. For the moment, their only industry is copra (dried coconut albumen) and we propose to accompany it with sugarcane agroforestry plantations. We ask that the local government accompany us.

FH: And at the French and European level, is it easy to be heard?

MV: We do not really have a network of influence at the French or European level, even if our two deputies and our senator help us. Compared to the West Indian lobby, we don’t carry much weight.

Rhum de Polynésie

FH: Precisely, how do your colleagues in the West Indies see your development?

MV: For the moment, I have the impression that they see us in a positive light. It must be said that they make 40 million liters and we make 50,000. We are not in the same league. But, still, we feel that it should not develop too much (laughs).

FH: What is the timetable for the various steps you have taken at the French and European level for recognition of the GI and Polynesian rum as ‘agricole’ rum?

MV : At the local level, we have signed a framework agreement with the Department of Agriculture which authorizes us to use the term “rhum agricole” in French Polynesia from mid-2020.

Then, the latter will file for national recognition with the INAO, and then it will have to be validated at the European level. We are going to ask for this international recognition for 2023 but we don’t think we will have it before 2025.

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