Apulian Authorities Agree on Funding for Xylella Strategy Ahead of Critical Spring Season

Faster eradication, early diagnoses and more research are among the key components of the containment strategy.
By Paolo DeAndreis
Feb. 7, 2023 13:31 UTC

Authorities in the south­ern Italian region of Puglia have announced a phy­tosan­i­tary strat­egy to curb the spread of the deadly Xylella fas­tidiosa bac­terium for 2023 and 2024.

The announce­ment marks the first time regional author­i­ties have approved a multi-year plan since Xylella fas­tidiosa started to spread in Italy in 2013.

The regional action and our com­mit­ment are con­stant to give farm­ers and busi­nesses the tools to pre­serve the olive-grow­ing her­itage and a strate­gic econ­omy for Puglia.- Donato Pentassuglia, Puglia’s regional sec­re­tary of agri­cul­ture

Apulian author­i­ties have bud­geted €7.7 mil­lion for the strat­egy, which con­firms the loca­tion and num­ber of infected red zones, where past Xylella fas­tidiosa out­breaks are con­stantly mon­i­tored.

One of the new plan’s crit­i­cal com­po­nents is improv­ing mon­i­tor­ing, which has resulted in the early detec­tion of infec­tions.

See Also:New Effort to Save Xylella-Hit Olive Trees in Apulia

Monitoring is cru­cial in the pre­ven­tion and the fight against the bac­terium,” Donato Pentassuglia, Puglia’s regional sec­re­tary of agri­cul­ture, told Olive Oil Times.

The mon­i­tor­ing num­bers, con­stantly updated through our ded­i­cated regional por­tal, show a sig­nif­i­cant and timely con­trol through plant analy­sis con­ducted not by the visual approach but by deploy­ing pre­cise sta­tis­ti­cal sam­pling tech­niques and advanced mol­e­c­u­lar tests.” 

Local experts rou­tinely take seven to 10 sam­ples from olive trees and veg­e­ta­tion in at-risk areas for each hectare of farm­land. Sampling can be more exten­sive if the risk is con­sid­ered greater, such as in the prox­im­ity of recently dis­cov­ered out­breaks.

Sampling focuses on the dozens of species sus­cep­ti­ble to Xylella fas­tidiosa bac­te­ria. 

Xylella fas­tidiosa

Xylella fas­tidiosa is a bac­terium that causes plant dis­eases, includ­ing in olive trees. Xyella is respon­si­ble for the spread of olive quick decline syn­drome (OQDS), which has caused exten­sive dam­age to olive groves in Southern Italy.

The more we can detect [the infec­tion] early, make early diag­noses and quickly apply con­tain­ment mea­sures on infected plants and new out­breaks, extin­guish­ing out­breaks by culling, the more we reduce the advance of the olive dis­ease,” Pentassuglia said.

This kind of mon­i­tor­ing allows for estab­lish­ing the bound­aries of the infected areas, where spe­cial con­tain­ment pro­to­cols are applied.

As man­dated by European Union reg­u­la­tions, such pro­to­cols include destroy­ing all infected trees and all sur­round­ing veg­e­ta­tion in a 50 meters radius.

Within such a radius, the new plan would typ­i­cally require the destruc­tion of dozens of cen­turies-old trees in the Monumental Olive Tree Valley, even if not infected. However, the E.U. has made an excep­tion to spare the cul­tur­ally and his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant trees. 

The Apulian Administrative Tribunal (TAR) recently took this idea fur­ther and said it might also spare infected trees on pri­vately-owned land in the val­ley from destruc­tion.

According to a local cit­i­zens’ com­mit­tee, which sup­ported the landowner in her legal action, the cur­rent strate­gies to pre­vent the spread of Xylella fas­tidiosa have resulted in deser­ti­fi­ca­tion with immea­sur­able dam­ages to the econ­omy, tourism, soci­ety and envi­ron­ment.”


Gennaro Sicolo, pres­i­dent of CIA Puglia, an agri­cul­tural asso­ci­a­tion, told Olive Oil Times that most farm­ers and landown­ers affected by Xylella fas­tidiosa had accepted the deploy­ment of the destruc­tion pro­to­cols. Some have even pro­ceeded to apply them on their own.

Luckily, only a few pre­ferred to go to court to block erad­i­ca­tion,” he said. The only result they get is to help Xylella fas­tidiosa spread fur­ther.”

The new bien­nial regional Xylella fas­tidiosa con­tain­ment plan has been adopted well ahead of the spring when the insects respon­si­ble for spread­ing the bac­te­ria begin to pro­lif­er­ate.

According to the local gov­ern­ment, this tim­ing will allow author­i­ties to deploy all the con­tain­ment mea­sures as the new sea­son approaches. Farmers agree.

With the new plan, this year there will be enough time to make all stake­hold­ers par­tic­i­pate in the new con­tain­ment strate­gies, which also means bet­ter action plan­ning,” Sicolo said.

Pentassuglia, the regional sec­re­tary to agri­cul­ture, empha­sized that beyond mon­i­tor­ing the infec­tion, the local gov­ern­ment has sus­tained farms affected by the epi­demic and sup­ported the olive farm­ing regen­er­a­tion by plant­ing resilient cul­ti­vars.

However, mem­bers of CIA Puglia believe that more can be done. In the last few years, local insti­tu­tions have accel­er­ated the con­tain­ment actions, the mon­i­tor­ing oper­a­tions and the erad­i­ca­tion [of the infected trees] sig­nif­i­cantly,” Sicolo said. But there is a need for quicker and more syn­er­gic action.”

That is why we pro­posed the appoint­ment of a ded­i­cated emer­gency man­ager with full pow­ers, extra­or­di­nary resources and means, able to enact erad­i­ca­tions in just a few weeks after an out­break is reported,” he added. Xylella fas­tidiosa is no less an emer­gency than Covid-19 has been and should be treated as such.”

Sicolo empha­sized how the most sig­nif­i­cant objec­tive now for farm­ers and offi­cials is pre­vent­ing the spread of the bac­te­ria far­ther north, which would endan­ger hun­dreds of thou­sands of olive groves. Those are the areas of the excel­lency of Apulian olive oil pro­duc­tion,” he said.

Among the mea­sures enacted through­out the whole region is the manda­tory removal of veg­e­ta­tion known to serve as habi­tats for the vec­tor insect pop­u­la­tions.

We won­der if extra­or­di­nary funds should be trans­ferred to farm­ers to help them exe­cute these best prac­tices,” Sicolo said. We also won­der if the pub­lic enti­ties that man­age roads, chan­nels, and rail­ways have always cor­rectly exe­cuted the con­tain­ment actions pro­vided by the reg­u­la­tions against the bac­te­ria.”

The future of the Apulian olive tree her­itage remains uncer­tain. Currently, there is no cure for Xylella fas­tidiosa, which the European Food Safety Authority has con­firmed based on sci­en­tific evi­dence,” Pentassuglia said.

We can, how­ever, pre­vent, mon­i­tor, and act promptly to reduce and block the spread through erad­i­cat­ing dis­eased plants,” he added. And we can, as we are pro­ceed­ing, invest in con­stant and assid­u­ous sci­en­tific research, in field tri­als that will rep­re­sent… new oppor­tu­ni­ties for rebirth, also through cul­tural diver­si­fi­ca­tion.”

The social, his­tor­i­cal and emo­tional link between locals and olive trees has tested the resilience of more than one gen­er­a­tion of Apulian cit­i­zens since the first out­breaks.

The regional action and our com­mit­ment are con­stant to give farm­ers and busi­nesses the tools to pre­serve the olive-grow­ing her­itage and a strate­gic econ­omy for Puglia,” Pentassuglia con­cluded. And above all, to cre­ate the con­di­tions for a real revi­tal­iza­tion in the medium-long term of our extra­or­di­nary ter­ri­tory.” 


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