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Salento Diary (Xylella V)

One of my last activities on this Salento trip was to attend a conference in Torchiarolo (just S of Brindisi) on the Xylella problem. I am accustomed to conferences where pretty much everyone is an academic. The main presenters here were familiar – an agronomist, an anthropologist, and a professor of law, but the public was different, including a smattering of students and scholars but dominated by local growers who have of course a vital interest in the Xylella debate. Academic conferences, for example, are rarely characterized by vocal expressions of dissent or outbreaks of applause. The agronomist (Xiloyannis) went first, champion of the organic olive growers, and insisted on the need to improve the health of the soil and so the resistance of trees to blights like Xylella. Based on an experimental grove he has managed for a dozen years at the University of Matera, his recommendations included, naturally, the abandonment of herbicides (used extensively here), but also abandonment of the typical tilling of the soil in favor of encouraging the growth of grasses and other plants (which might be mowed), and the mulching of olive trimmings (typically burned). All of these measures are intended to increase the organic matter and microbiological fertility of the soil. He insisted on the need for annual trimming to maintain air and light in the crowns of the trees and, using Israel as an example, the need in this low precipitation area to recycle grey water for irrigation. As came out more forcefully in the ensuing discussion, he was highly critical of the approach that has been taken regarding both the scientific research in relation and response to the crisis. The anthropologist (Alliegro) has been tromping around the Salento observing, as one would expect, reactions to the Xylella crisis on multiple levels: emotional, practical, political (including demonstrations that risked turning violent in, among other places, Torchiarolo). The lawyer (Monteduro) predictably returned to a more practical sphere. The Xylella response is currently under review by the EU and it is entirely possible, based on recommendations from the relevant department that deals with food security, that it will decide in May to go ahead with large-scale eradication and spraying. From his discussion emerged the unfortunate weakness of European (though of course not only) administration wherein, in this case, the food security concerns are not weighed against environmental, economic, social, and other ones. It was again in the discussion that the concern of growers was most evident. The sort of pruning advocated by some (and as I have seen already carried out in some groves) means no crop for 2016; nor is it clear what that treatment means for the long-term health of the trees. Xiloyannis instead has called for the measures listed above together with trimming of the scorched limbs of infected trees. In the three years of government-supported research, however, and in part because of a failure to involve a larger and interdisciplinary group of scholars, that approach has yet to be tried. Meanwhile a French researcher at the conference (the problem indeed has inspired international interest) told me that another American scholar (at Northwestern) has been reporting in great detail on the Xylella crisis since 2014. Here is the link:

Lots of information here. I haven’t discovered yet whether he has or is planning to offer a synthesis.

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