Italy is fighting a race against time to protect its valuable oil reserves from deadly germs.
In one Italian region alone, an indiscriminate tree disease has killed 15 million olive trees in eight years, putting the production of olive oil on a knife’s edge.
Xylella, a devastating fungus that kills olive trees, has sparked fears that the sector may completely collapse. Reporter James Mates told ITV News how the disease has thrown the olive oil business in Puglia, Italy, into disarray because the disease destroys every tree it infects. The disease is spread by the flying spittlebug and is thought to have arrived in Italy from another country in 2013. As stockpiles of olive oil dwindle, farmers are starting from scratch and cultivating disease-resistant olive trees to combat the bacteria.
“[The] dreadful illness has been rampaging through the olive trees, killing practically every tree it comes into contact with,” Mr Mates said.
“Even the most gorgeous 400-year-old olive trees are not immune.”
He went on to say that Xylella had “neither a therapy nor a cure,” and that “once infected, an olive tree is doomed.”
The disease is believed to have arrived in Puglia in 2013.
Mr Mates emphasized how the illness “almost certainly” arrived in Italy via a shipment of olive plants from Costa Rica.
“Vast swaths of this area have become a wasteland for olive farmers,” he claimed.
In an interview with ITV, olive grower Giovanni Malcane recounted how he had to make the difficult decision to replace entire olive groves with bacterium resistant trees in order to avoid a repeat of the disaster.
He recounts how growers like himself have been left with little choice but to plant acres of new olive trees on his farm in order to stay afloat after their groves were “decimated” by Xylella.
“This is our goal,” he stated.
“To have a plant with technological features similar to the Cellina di Nardo and the Olgliarona Salentina…
“Which are the ones that are fast declining due to Xylella?
“Those cultivars that have been discovered to be resistant have genetic resistance.”
The bacteria Xylella fastidiosa causes illness in a wide range of plants, according to the Royal Horticultural Society.
The bacteria can infect over 560 plant species, causing symptoms such as leaf burn, wilt, dieback, and plant death.
It has not been found in the UK, however it has been found in other countries. “Brinkwire News in Condensed Form.”