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Salento Diary (Xylella II)

[I] risk losing the thread. One question asked by local commentators and shareholders about the xylella “crisis” (see Xylella I post) was whether or not the olive tree scorching in the Salento was indeed caused by the xylella bacterium in the first place. The scientific conclusion seems to have been reached hastily and there are several other possible explanations. Literary references to olive blights go back several centuries (presumably not xylella since there was meant to be none in Europe till now) and there are several other possible culprits including a fungus. Some have hypothesized that the real problem (xylella or otherwise) is the fact that so many groves have been abandoned and are overgrown, a fine environment for flies and other pests. Why, though, might there have been a rush (if indeed there was) to identify xylella (and spittlebugs) as the cause of the scorching? One suspicion relates to EU financing. Not surprisingly the EU is very interested in protecting European agriculture from threats both internal and external. As such considerable funds are dedicated to that protection. Might, some have wondered, local politicians and others have encouraged the idea of a crisis and invasion of a foreign pathogen in order to gain access to those funds? Perhaps. A just published (March 29) study instead appears to have followed more careful and systematic procedures, including accepted methods of inoculating trees under controlled conditions, and concludes that the scorching is indeed caused by the xylella bacterium (and the local Cellina di Nardò varietal appears especially susceptible). That study though was carried out by the same research group as previously (under the auspices of the Italian National Research Council); according to the local press, two of the researchers are indeed among those being investigated for criminal dissemination of the bacterium. Leaving aside such potential conflicts of interest, though, and accepting these scientific results as persuasive, there are still other important questions regarding the measures that were taken following declaration of the crisis. More to follow.

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