Communication breakdown impacts ancient olive trees

27 January 2018 | By Casper Jebsen
Photo by: Antonio Sorrentino

Italy’s olive industry in the Puglia region has been in peril in recent years due to a bacterial pathogen called Xylella fastidiosa causing “Olive Quick Decline Syndrome” in olive trees for which there is no cure available at the moment. This syndrome blocks the Tree’s xylem vessels which carry water and important nutrients to shoots and leaves, thereby causing the tree to dry out and die. The outbreak of this disease has been met with controversy regarding the efforts made by Italian authorities to contain the disease. The main threat is that the pathogen which originated from the Americas could spread throughout Europe causing havoc on the global olive industry.

The planned procedure to containing diseases including the examination of the pathogen and removing of diseased trees, was hindered by mass protest in the area of Puglia. The protest arose due to the plans to create a buffer zone which included the felling of many healthy olive trees, including areas with ancient olive trees. 

Photo by: Antonio Sorrentino

Protests continued also after the European Commission imposed containing plans, and Puglia’s public prosecutor banned the felling of the trees in question. The whole communication burden between European, national and local authorities caused even the appointed person in charge to resign. Only the ban was lifted when the Commission threatened to take the issue to the European Court of Justice, in July 2016. 

Since then a new Task Force has been in charge of containing the disease, their plans however are not made public to avoid protesters to return. Such delays have led to a dramatic increase of the buffer zone. New efforts to contain the disease have been met with criticism by the European Commission who were concerned with the lack of pace by Italian authorities to tackle the issue after having found out that in 2016 almost no samples of Xyella were analyzed in Italian Laboratories. 

Photo by: Antonio Sorrentino

At this stage, scientists have discovered two types of olive trees which are almost resistant to the disease which could be replanted instead of the infected trees, but this measure will however take time to implement. 

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