In the Italian region of Puglia, the countryside was once awash with lush green olive groves, with rows of trees stretching as far as the eye could see. However, over the past two years, that beautiful sight has turned into a mass of bare limbed brambles, warning visitors of the terrible suffering occurring before their eyes.
This destruction has been brought upon by a bacteria called Xylella fastidioisa. Spread by insects, the disease feeds on tree sap, eventually robbing the tree of all vital nutrients and killing it. The bacteria has been ravishing California’s vineyards for many years, along with the almond trees in Spain. This disease is considered especially deadly because it can affect many different types of plants.
Xylella fastidioisa was first reported in Puglia back in 2013. Scientists believed it came to Italy through the exotic plant trade and government officials tried to curb the spread as quickly as possible. One of their solutions was to destroy the infected trees along with any trees within a certain radius. This plan was met with resistance, as many Italians could not accept tearing out hundreds of ancient olive trees.
Additionally, some scientists stated the disease was spreading so rapidly because of the overuse of herbicides and pesticides. Eventually, farmers and environmentalists protested the order to destroy the trees. Instead, they argued for more organic treatments to help cure the problem. The opposition was so intense that Italian prosecutors even investigated the scientists who first identified Xylella as the source of disease.
Unfortunately, all this back and forth wasted too much time, and now the vast array of olive groves are shrinking rapidly. Even those that followed through with removing and destroying infected trees could not prevent the bacteria from spreading to other parts of the country.
The future is not entirely bleak for the farmers who depend on these groves for survival. According to Marco Scortichini, a researcher at Italy’s Council for Agricultural Research and Agricultural Economy Analysis, people need to adapt and find ways to live with this disease. He believes if the soil is made more fertile and the trees treated with zinc, copper, citric acid, that the bacteria would be weakened. This would allow the trees to start producing again.
Despite the differing viewpoints, scientists, farmers, and government officials all agree on one thing: time is running out. If drastic measures are not taken soon, Puglia’s economy may never recover.