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.
By Paolo DeAndreis
Nov. 15, 2022 14:57 UTC

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.”

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.


Getty Images

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.”


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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