The revival of fennel cultivation in Provence benefits bees

FIGARO DEMAIN – Ricard has undertaken to concentrate its supply of anise in France. This has helped to bring the insects back to the Valensole plateau.

Traditionally, Ricard pastis owes its anise flavor to star anise, imported from China. For ecological reasons and to guarantee the resource, the world champion of the “little yellow” has undertaken to concentrate its supply of anise in France. Hence the revival, since 2008, of the cultivation of fennel – which gives Pagnol’s favorite drink an identical taste – on the Valensole plateau, in Provence. “We have offered our own variety to farmers who are committed to working exclusively for us”, explains Cécile Devillers, sustainable performance manager at Pernod Ricard France. However, the region is dominated by the cultivation of lavandin – a hybrid species between asp lavender and true lavender – the latter growing for its part between 700 and 1,200 meters above sea level. This allowed 14 farms to diversify, with a staggered harvest calendar. What also make profitable their distillation units, initially dedicated to lavandin.

This sector is not content to participate in soil renewal. Unlike lavender, massive flowering fennel produces both nectar and pollen. To understand the benefits of these plantations on the local ecosystem, Ricard has joined forces with the Mediterranean Institute of Biodiversity and Ecology. A thesis conducted since 2018 by Lucie Schurr shows the wealth of flower-growing insects that results from it: 38 families of insects (compared to 6 on average in a wheat field) including five bees – out of the seven existing in France – feed on those hundred hectares of fennel. By comparison, we find respectively 6, 12 and 24 species of insects on average in a field of wheat, lavandin and in a semi-wooded natural environment. Insect diversity increasing the yield of fennel, it is a win-win operation. Especially since 40% of pollinating insects are on the verge of extinction.

Trained in organic selection

Ricard’s goal is to achieve the same proportion of fennel as star anise, against 20% previously. However, independence comes at a cost: the yellow flowering plant is more expensive than star anise.

Pernod Ricard, which is now one of the partners of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is committed to a process of protecting biodiversity on its 350 terroirs in 70 countries. The 5,000 farmers with whom the world number two in spirits works will be trained in organic selection and soil improvement. By 2025, all of its vineyards must have a regenerative agriculture demonstrator.

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