Reimagining the Xylella-Devastated Landscape of Southern Puglia

Public and private stakeholders are working together in Salento province to plant new crops and revitalize the previously devastated landscape.
Nov. 15, 2022
Paolo DeAndreis

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One of the com­mu­ni­ties in south­ern Italy whose ancient olive oil-mak­ing cul­ture was bru­tally impacted by the Xylella fas­tidiosa out­break is off to a new start.

Local author­i­ties, sci­en­tists and agri­cul­tural asso­ci­a­tions are work­ing together to recre­ate the land­scape of Otranto, in the heart of Puglia’s Salento province.

It is true that Xylella killed our olive trees but did not kill our iden­tity. We are ready to rebuild the land­scape; its beauty is inside us.- Fabio Pollice, dean, University of Salento

The Research Center for Agriculture (CREA), the University of Salento and Otranto munic­i­pal­ity have launched an exper­i­men­tal refor­esta­tion ini­tia­tive.

The idea is to cul­ti­vate new bio­di­ver­sity in the province where olive trees once thrived by plant­ing Xylella fas­tidiosa-resilient plant species.

See Also:A New Project to Promote Olive Oil Roads in Puglia

Landscape is a cru­cial por­tion of the iden­tity of a pop­u­la­tion,” Fabio Pollice, the University of Salento’s dean, told Olive Oil Times. Landscape is the syn­the­sis of cul­tural and envi­ron­men­tal ele­ments.”

Taking care of our land­scape means tak­ing care of our iden­tity and pro­ject­ing it into the future,” he added. Regenerating the land­scape means rebuild­ing the ecosys­temic bal­ance which has been the rich­ness of this ter­ri­tory for cen­turies. This is the rea­son this is a cul­tural project.”

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The ini­tia­tive’s pro­mot­ers said it rep­re­sents a com­mu­nal effort to bring back the cul­tural her­itage of Otranto, tying it into the devel­op­ment of tourism oppor­tu­ni­ties and work­ing to involve younger gen­er­a­tions.

Several local high schools par­tic­i­pate in re-plant­ing days with envi­ron­men­tal­ists, archi­tects, agri-food entre­pre­neurs, gar­den cen­ters and agri­cul­tural coop­er­a­tives.

For cen­turies, Salento was at the heart of olive oil pro­duc­tion in Puglia and one of the most rel­e­vant pro­duc­ing provinces of the region. Despite the scourge of Xyella fas­tidiosa, Puglia remains Italy’s most sig­nif­i­cant olive oil-pro­duc­ing region.

However, the dev­as­ta­tion brought by Xylella fas­tidiosa in the last decade has wholly mod­i­fied the land­scape of the south­ern por­tion of the region, located on the heel’ of Italy’s boot.

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The bac­te­ria infects olive trees and causes Olive Quick Decline Syndrome, a deadly dis­ease with no cure.

The spread of Xyella fas­tidiosa has dev­as­tated the local econ­omy and envi­ron­ment. The death of mil­lions of olive trees has dras­ti­cally altered the nat­ural envi­ron­ment and the lives of hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple.

The cur­rent olive oil pro­duc­tion in the south, where it is still pos­si­ble, is just a tiny frac­tion of what it used to be.

Over time, sev­eral local projects have been financed to sup­port the trans­for­ma­tion of local farms and the adop­tion of new crops.

In some cases, new Leccino and Favolosa olive trees have been planted, which are more resilient to Xylella fas­tidiosa. Still, every­thing has changed for local res­i­dents.

It is true that Xylella killed our olive trees but did not kill our iden­tity. We are ready to rebuild the land­scape; its beauty is inside us,” Pollice said.

Pantaleo Piccinno, pres­i­dent of the Salento-Jonic Agriculture Quality District (DAJS), among the orga­ni­za­tions involved in the project, told Olive Oil Times in an April 2022 inter­view that the goal of these types of projects is to revi­tal­ize Puglia.

The goal is to bring back agri­cul­ture and income to areas severely hit by Xylella,” he said. We are work­ing with a new approach to replace destroyed olive groves with new crops, reshape our ter­ri­tory and give strength to its agri­cul­tural excel­len­cies.”

When it comes to the Otranto ini­tia­tive, the city is fully immersed in the multi-year project with hopes of win­ning the nom­i­na­tion as the Culture Capital of the Nation, a prize awarded to com­mu­ni­ties that have made extra­or­di­nary efforts to pro­mote their her­itage and tra­di­tions.

We have used such project for the national award as a means to sus­tain the com­mu­nity in focus­ing on the devel­op­ment of our ter­ri­tory through its own cul­ture,” Pollice said. Culture has always been a dri­ver of devel­op­ment in a city which his­tor­i­cally rep­re­sents a gate­way between the east­ern and west­ern Mediterranean com­mu­ni­ties.”

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OOT File Photo

Whatever cul­tural project we can think of can­not be devel­oped with­out the land­scape ini­tia­tive,” he added. As a uni­ver­sity, we thought of sev­eral ideas for pro­mot­ing the Otranto cul­ture and then shared them with the local com­mu­nity. Their reac­tion was unan­i­mous: it all depends on the land­scape regen­er­a­tion.”

The local pop­u­la­tion has grown olives for gen­er­a­tions, and most fam­i­lies man­aged their own groves. Olive oil pro­duc­tion has accom­pa­nied the eco­nomic and social devel­op­ment of the region. Losing that land­scape has cre­ated a wide­spread cul­tural and emo­tional fall­out.

That is where the com­mu­nity wanted to focus its efforts,” Pollice said. They all asked, what will hap­pen to us if we can­not rebuild our rela­tion­ship with our land­scape?’ ”

Landscape is a com­mu­nal her­itage result­ing from the inter­ac­tions between man and nature. Therefore it is a social con­cept which devel­ops over time, a space where a com­mu­ni­ty’s rela­tion­ship with the ter­ri­tory tends to set­tle,” he added. And that is why every com­mu­nity is dif­fer­ent since it adapted its ter­ri­tory to its val­ues and activ­i­ties.”

One of the cul­tural icons of the project is the 16-meter-long mosaic of the Otranto cathe­dral, a 12th-cen­tury work com­posed of more than 600,000 tiles rep­re­sent­ing the many cul­tures and reli­gions that influ­enced the city’s his­tory.

Culture is a set of parts which relate har­mo­niously with each other, a sys­tem of val­ues and struc­tures,” Pollice said. We are noth­ing more than tiles of a mosaic, where cul­ture is not the prod­uct of one indi­vid­ual but the mosaic of per­sons whose iden­tity stays in the land­scape.”

It is not just a refor­esta­tion effort; it is a way to bring the local com­mu­nity and the younger pop­u­la­tion to rebuild the rela­tion­ship with their land­scape, mak­ing it the sub­ject of a shared plan­ning, feel­ing to be part of a land­scape com­mu­nity.”


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