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COVID-19 Hinders Xylella Fight in Italy

Funds are coming to counter the bacteria and sustain the local economy. But the COVID-19 epidemic has stymied urgent action

Mar. 27, 2020
By Paolo DeAndreis

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Italy’s COVID-19 epi­demic has cast a shadow on the fight against Xylella fas­tidiosa in the south­ern regions of the coun­try. The out­break of the aer­o­bic bac­te­ria has plagued olive trees in the region, and con­tain­ment mea­sures are not yet in place.

The lat­est sam­pling showed 600 new infec­tions and 100 olive trees hit. The dis­tri­b­u­tion of the bac­te­ria in the Puglia region was found to have begun affect­ing other species, such as laven­der, sug­gest­ing a risk of more wide­spread infec­tion in the spring.

There is no known cure for the bac­te­ria-infected trees will wither and die, and if not con­tained, the infec­tion will spread.

The Ital­ian gov­ern­ment has promised fund­ing for the areas struck by infec­tion, while the Euro­pean Union com­mis­sion reviewed and unlocked $322.9 mil­lion in emer­gency funds. The national effort against COVID-19, how­ever, has affected the effi­ciency and tim­ing of the response against Xylella.

See more: Olive Oil Sales Jump While Ital­ian Econ­omy Shrinks

While the EU funds will be a wel­come relief to the oil mills, olive grow­ers and farm­ers who have been hit hard­est by Xylella, the farm­ers’ asso­ci­a­tion Coldiretti noted that there is cur­rently no fund­ing ded­i­cated to mon­i­tor­ing the spit­tle­bug, the insect respon­si­ble for the spread of Xylella.

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The dis­ease in Puglia is wide­spread and Xylella is not under con­trol, while … the spit­tle­bug has grown from its lar­val stage and is now ready to become an adult insect in many areas and groves,” Coldiretti Puglia pres­i­dent Savino Muraglia warned local author­i­ties in a let­ter.

Coldiretti sug­gested that the orga­ni­za­tion pro­ceed with coun­ter­mea­sures as the Ital­ian Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture has not yet pro­vided a time­line for inter­ven­tion.

Not all local author­i­ties seem eager to await a go-ahead from the Min­istry. The Ugento munic­i­pal­ity in Puglia is now accept­ing reg­is­tra­tions of farm­ers will­ing to remove the infected plants. Reg­is­tra­tion orig­i­nally was set to be closed on March 20, but local author­i­ties extended it due to the COVID-19 emer­gency.

If we had those Xylella infec­tions spread through­out our olive groves, I would want to pro­ceed very quickly [to remove the infected trees],” Ric­cardo Mecozzi, farmer and olive grower in the Lazio region told Olive Oil Times. Author­i­ties are mon­i­tor­ing our region for any even­tual spread­ing of the Xylella; they tell us that we do not have any such evi­dence. Still, we all know that if seri­ous con­tain­ment mea­sures are not adopted in Puglia, the bac­te­ria will come up north. That is why we have to test our plants every year, not know­ing what will hap­pen next to our olive trees.”

Mean­while, the Min­istry has put on the table another round of fund­ing for the areas hard­est hit by Xylella — a $14 mil­lion grant ini­tia­tive known as Xylella Dis­tricts Con­tracts. Accord­ing to a Min­istry press release, the ini­tia­tive aims to carry out a pro­gram for the regen­er­a­tion of agri­cul­ture in the ter­ri­to­ries affected by the bac­terium.”

Cit­ing the COVID-19 epi­demic and the health and safety of the offi­cers involved in the pro­gram, the Min­istry has deferred the appli­ca­tion dead­line for the ini­tia­tive to May 18.

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