`What Will Save Salento's Olive Trees? - Olive Oil Times

What Will Save Salento's Olive Trees?

Mar. 31, 2015
Luciana Squadrilli

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Is uproot­ing the only option to save Apulia’s olive groves? In Italy, the debate is heated and doubts are ris­ing, while grow­ers and cit­i­zens pre­pare to fight against com­mis­sioner Siletti’s deci­sions.

Things in Apulia — the Italian region where the olive-tree-killing Xylella fas­tidiosa epi­demic has been spread­ing since 2013 — are get­ting more and more com­pli­cated. The debate over the need to uproot infected olive trees and the mas­sive use of insec­ti­cides against the vec­tor insects on grass­lands and dry-stone walls is press­ing.

A few weeks ago the Protezione Civile (Civil Protection) approved a plan pro­posed by the appointed Commissioner Giuseppe Silletti, head of Apulia’s State Forestry Corps, to uproot the infected plants and use pes­ti­cides on affected crops and across wide buffer zones in Salento to pre­vent the spread­ing of the dis­ease.

In his speech at the Agriculture Committee at the Chamber of Deputies, Silletti called for a pre­ci­sion inter­ven­tion” with respect for the envi­ron­ment, sur­gi­cal” uproot­ing, soil plough­ing and use of select insec­ti­cides when needed, instead of more inva­sive her­bi­cides.


Despite Siletti’s cau­tion, a num­ber of voices were raised in protest against the uproot­ing and the other mea­sures, claim­ing the need to pre­serve the val­ued her­itage of Salento’s cen­turies-old olive trees — recently sub­mit­ted to Unesco for offi­cial cul­tural sta­tus — and the pos­si­bil­ity that the Xylella might actu­ally be harm­less to olive trees.

As a well-doc­u­mented arti­cle writ­ten by Elisabetta De Blasi on Teatro Naturale web­site reported, sev­eral sci­en­tific opin­ions, includ­ing the EFSA 3989 report dat­ing back to January 6, 2015, declare that the Pauca sub­species of Xylella bac­te­ria could be among the causes for the Salento olive trees’ dry­ing, but there was no evi­dence it is the only cause.

According to the EFSA report, uproot­ing did­n’t prove to be effec­tive in other areas of the world where the bac­te­ria is present: A thor­ough review of the lit­er­a­ture yielded no indi­ca­tion that erad­i­ca­tion is a suc­cess­ful option once the dis­ease is estab­lished in an area.”
See Also:More on the Xylella fas­tidiosa Outbreak in Apulia
Moreover, an Italian audit pub­lished on 5th March revealed that among over 13,250 sam­ples taken from trees grow­ing in fields and nurs­eries, a mere 242 tested pos­i­tive to Xylella. The fact that a num­ber of pos­i­tive olive trees were symp­tom­less also sug­gested that the dry­ing could be linked to other causes such as a fun­gus.

Some sus­pect indis­crim­i­nate use of her­bi­cides and anti-heart­worm sprays in the area are dam­ag­ing the trees, not to men­tion harm­ing the health of locals (such as the gli­fos­ate-based Roundup Crop Prevention made by Monsanto, which is a sus­pected car­cino­gen). Moreover, De Blasi points out, the plan against Xylella involves the use of chem­i­cal sub­stances that have been declared toxic by EFSA itself.

The risk to endan­ger the Apulian land­scape and envi­ron­ment, and to poten­tially dam­age the flour­ish­ing tourism indus­try deeply linked to the beau­ti­ful old olive groves, has caused an out­cry and a lot of peo­ple — Apulia cit­i­zens, pro­duc­ers, agron­o­mists and a num­ber of celebri­ties – have ral­lied against the course being taken by the Italian gov­ern­ment, the European Commission and the Apulia Region.

While in some cases the objec­tions ring of a con­spir­acy the­ory” approach impli­cat­ing Big Pharma and Evil Government, oth­ers seem to be ratio­nal, well-doc­u­mented, and cer­tainly heart­felt.

Professor Giuseppe Altieri, who teaches phy­topathol­ogy, ento­mol­ogy, organic agri­cul­ture and agro-ecol­ogy and is a researcher at the Agernova group in Umbria, is firmly expos­ing the risks of the approved inter­ven­tion plan. With sur­veys in hand he has asked Siletti to stop the mas­sive use of insec­ti­cides, quar­an­tine lines and uproot­ings which in his opin­ion could only worsen the health of the Apulian olive groves; he invited Siletti to con­cen­trate the efforts on a ratio­nal agro-eco­log­i­cal man­age­ment” increas­ing the bio­di­ver­sity of the agri­cul­tural ecosys­tem. He also asked for the repeal­ing of the ban on sell­ing and plant­ing not only for­eign but even indige­nous species in the Lecce area.

The Salento-born econ­o­mist Daniele De Michele, who is also a well-known writer and DJ under the name of Don Pasta, wrote a fer­vent let­ter in Corriere della Sera addressed to the agri­cul­ture min­is­ter, Maurizio Martina, to Apulia gov­er­nor Nichi Vendola and Lecce Province’s pres­i­dent Antonio Maria Gabellone to stop the killing of trees. The result of the last 50 years of agri­cul­tural loans and financ­ing was the aban­don of our rural areas,” De Michele said. The para­dox is that olive trees have been either over-treated or com­pletely uncared-for. But nowa­days there are a lot of peo­ple who care about their own olive trees, and they do so in a good and clean way. We have to start again.”

On the other hand, politi­cians and researchers, includ­ing Donato Boscia and Giovanni Martelli, who deter­mined Xylella fas­tidiosa was the cause of all of the dam­age to the region’s olive trees, insist on the neces­sity to iso­late and stop the dis­ease’s spread.

Others have a dif­fer­ent opin­ion alto­gether. In his lat­est speech at the European Agriculture Committee, EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said the high­est vig­i­lance is now essen­tial to pre­serve the farm econ­omy” in Salento, and that they are encour­ag­ing a more pre­cau­tion­ary approach” to stop the bac­te­ri­a’s dif­fu­sion. Meanwhile, the TAR (regional admin­is­tra­tive court) of Lecce sus­pended the uproot­ing of an olive grove in Oria, one of the affected vil­lages, after the own­er’s appeal.

The sit­u­a­tion in Salento con­tin­ues, the stress lev­els rise and the debate over how to save its sacred trees rages on.


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