Salento Diary (Xylella IV)
Americans tend to be skeptical regarding “conspiracy theories;” Italians less so. Here then is the cynical analysis of the xylella crisis. Whether planned or accidental, the spread of xylella provided a golden opportunity for those with unwanted olive groves. If the accepted solution is indeed the destruction of trees and xylella constitutes a threat to European agriculture, then here is a situation in which the EU will not only pay for the removal of trees but even encourage the destruction of trees that were otherwise protected, the so-called millenari (thousand year old trees). Why would anyone want to destroy these groves? Well, there are at least two possible explanations. Tourism has boomed in the Salento in recent years and it might be that property owners see development opportunities blocked by the protection of ancient groves. Alternatively (or in addition), it could be that agricultural interests would like to replace the groves of traditional Salento cultivars with high intensity groves of the type grown in Spain and, more recently, California and elsewhere. Why not shift half the cost of that transition (the eradication of old groves) to Europe? Far fetched? Perhaps. The response to the xylella crisis was, again, to call for the eradication of infected trees as well as all tress within a 100 meter radius, plus the use of insecticides to kill the spittlebugs who carry the bacteria. The creation of a cordon sanitaire across the entire length of the Salento peninsula, a 100 meter wide clear cut, was also envisioned. Eradication began last year but was stopped by the courts in December in response to protests raised by some of the growers. Meanwhile a criminal investigation was initiated of both the scientists involved and the special commissario appointed by the Ministry of Agriculture and who devised the response (as a result he resigned). Following release in these past two weeks of study results implicating again xylella for the olive scorching, orders for a revised approach have been issued: eradication of infected trees but only pruning of the surrounding ones. Meanwhile the millenari will be protected in any case and one (center-left) regional politician has proposed a regulation according to which land where olive groves are destroyed can only be used for olive cultivation for the next seven years, an obvious attempt to counter those who might be speculating on the crisis to convert groves to condominiums or the like. The center-right instead has declared this a violation of fundamental property rights. Tomorrow I attend a conference on what comes next.
Presumably this tree qualifies as a millenario: