Rum & Sustainability – Virginie de Pouppeville: “Envisaging a future with no volume restrictions isn’t very realistic.”

Virginie de Pouppeville is Quality Manager at BBS (La Mauny, Trois Rivières). As such, she works across the entire production line, from field to bottle. She talks to us about the company’s environmental policy.

Virgine Pouppeville
Virginie Pouppeville in the Trois Rivières – La Mauny facilities – © Distillery

Rumporter: What measures have you implemented for environmental protection?

Virginia Poupeville: We are committed to understanding and reducing our environmental impact above and beyond required standards and regulations regarding consumption and discharges into the natural environment. For example, some of the action programs that we have executed here include the implementation of an energy audit carried out in collaboration with the electricity cogeneration plant, the establishment of a cooling water recycling system for the distillation columns, improvements to the automatic regulation of mills or boilers leading to improved energy performance and water vapour savings, setting up waste separation and collection systems, and eliminating wastage in general. We are also equipped to effectively regulate and manage our vinasses and stack fumes.

We have also set up a residents’ committee for transparent communication, where we welcome residents’ comments and proposals for improvement. We carry out systematic soil analyses before amendment, as recommended in sustainable agriculture, and also perform this free of charge for the small-scale planters with whom we work. Finally, we are currently experimenting with composting bagasses and fertirrigation in order to reuse our organic waste, reactivate soil microbiology and allow its natural regeneration.

Rumporter: We’d like to know more about the agricultural dimension. We know that BBS works with many small-scale planters, can you briefly describe how your cane supply is structured?

VP: We own 60 ha of AOC sugar cane on the La Mauny Estate, which is surrounded by a designated protected area primary tropical forest, so you can see just how precious our land is and how intimately it is linked to one of Martinique’s rarest ecosystems. In addition, La Mauny rents 35 hectares of AOC sugar cane fields at Trabaud Cove, near Saint Anne and 40 hectares at Valable, Trois Ilets. What’s more, at Trois-Rivières, we have 700 ha of land, of which just 200 ha are given over to the cultivation of sugar cane. The rest consists of natural savannas dedicated to cattle breeding, salt marshes, and mangroves – very specific ecosystems of which we are very proud.

Maison La Mauny
La Mauny/Trois Rivières distillery near Rivière Pilote (South Martinique) – © Distillery

To supplement Maison La Mauny’s provisions, we work closely with about 70 planters who supply us with their sugar cane. Other than the Galion sugar factory, we are the only ones to be structured in this way. Our planters belong to “Les Planteurs La Mauny”, a non-profit association for shared management and representativity of southern cane farmers. We are very committed to the notion of balance, the safeguarding of family heritage, the defence of bio-diversity and the cultivation methods of traditional cane. Some young, small-scale planters also work land that we rent and maintain it for us.

Rumporter: You are located in the south of the island and are therefore amongst those most affected by the problem of itchgrass, one of the weeds most harmful to sugar cane, especially in the context of mechanized harvesting. With the ongoing prohibition or non-approval of crop protection products, including Asulox, how do you manage your weed control?

VP: We are located in the south of the island and therefore among the most penalized by all the problems that are destroying the cultivation of sugar cane in Martinique: land-squeeze, drought, the ban on crop protection products. With the ongoing ban or non-approval of crop protection products, including Asulox, how do we manage our weed control?

“We have adopted the traditional method of weeding by hand.”

We have adopted the traditional method of weeding by hand. This year, the fields were well maintained and we created jobs. But it’s an ongoing problem: in Martinique nobody wants to work in the fields and do this kind of job, even though we offer young recruits renewable fixed-term contracts alongside training plans enabling skill improvements and professionalization (safe-driving aptitude certificates, mechanisation, individual certificate in plant protection products, etc.) – these positions are mostly filled by foreign workers, which involve additional administrative and organisational constraints (residence permits, housing, etc.).

Planters who subcontract for us cultivate small areas and often have to do the job themselves or bring their families in to help, because mechanical weeding simply is not an available option. It’s also a huge burden for them.

Rumporter: All these problems affecting the cultivation of sugar cane in Martinique – land-squeeze, drought, ban on crop protection products – result in constant increases in the price of cane. As a non-producer, you are particularly affected. Do you think that rum can continue absorbing these price increases for much longer?

VP: I believe that envisaging a future with no volume restrictions and cost increases isn’t very realistic, and that applies to all areas of consumption and production worldwide.


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