Or Xylella fastidiosa to give it it’s full name. Three days ago I was asked on this blog what I knew about this disease affecting olive trees in the Salento region of Puglia . Not much I replied though there had been rumblings about it’s outbreak before we left for five months.
Well the local papers are full of it today as the first 100 diseased trees were taken down by chain saw yesterday morning .
The disease broke out in fact five months ago and to date infects 8,000 hectares (19,768 acres ) around the Lecce area. The bacterium comes from the Americas and this one is linked to Brazil though at the moment it not seemingly infecting citrus plants just olive trees. It infects the woody water transporting tissues of the tree and so the many insects that feed on that water all become potential carriers of the disease.
It is clearly very serious for Puglia and for Italy as Puglia produces 36% of the Nation’s entire olive crop . It is also really worrisome for Europe as this is the first time it has ever crossed over the pond and affected plants here. Scientists believe it must have arrived on an exotic plant from Brasil.
The really bad news is there is no known cure and the best that can be achieved is the successful containment of the disease in an area by preventing insect movement and by uprooting and destroying the diseased trees.
The E.U. has already banned the movement of many plants from the Lecce area and yesterday saw the start of the destruction process of the trees.
The tragedy is it is the biggest and oldest that catch it first so amazingly old trees are dying have stood in the fields for a thousand years or more. Hence the almost poetic writings by reporters today of the events of yesterday as they watched the big trees be cut up and taken off to be sold for €5 a quintal as firewood while the families who own the land wept openly. There were protesters too who tried to stop the chain saws though quite why I’m not sure. as one official said the trees are dead so why try to prevent them being cut down.
The guy charged with controlling the outbreak and preventing it’s spread is plant virologist Dr. Donato Boscia, from the Institute of Plant Virology (IVV) at the National Research Council, in Bari.
He was asked by the Olive Oil Times ( yes there really is one ) if he felt the disease could be eradicated but he didn’t really hold out any hope at all for these four reasons
1. The contaminated area has a very large extension.
2. The pathogen has several susceptible hosts, and surely several of those are still unknown and may be symptomless.
3. Efficient insect vectors (carriers) are involved.
4. The area is densely populated, with an infinite number of private houses with gardens, which makes unrealistic to expect to get all of them sampled and eventually eradicated.
So containment seems the name of the game and meanwhile I guess olive growers throughout Europe hold their collective breaths and wish Donato the best of luck.
On a lighter note our old friend Il Cavaliere Silvio Berlusconi has finally been sentenced for his tax fraud . He is to do one year of community service while the other 3 years of his sentence were pardoned. Actually it isn’t really one year, it is 4 hours once a week for a year and some restrictions on his travel without the Court’s permission.
What is he to do? Well he is 78 this year so they have put him to work helping the elderly many of whom will, in all likelihood, be younger than him . He is working for a charity Cesano Bescone run by a friar who he knows well. As an ex cabaret singer no doubt he will be able to sing them a few tunes during his 4 hours and regale them with stories of his time in power. One of his quotes was ” Only Napoleon did more than I have done but I am definitely taller!” He also in 2007 called upon all judges to be tested regularly for sanity which might not have help his case. Still the Court has agreed for him to go to Rome and to fight the European elections so he is certainly not out of the political picture though the opportunity of bunga bunga parties in the old peoples home might be somewhat restricted.
And finally another comment on this blog recommended me to try Duolingo to help with my Italian. I did and it is really great. You set yourselves targets for each day and are pestered by a “coach” who e mails you and sends notes on the iPad if you don’t do the work. Just what I was looking for and I’m hooked.