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Between Maglie, Lecce and Gallipoli, one has the impression of walking through a cemetery. One of Majestic trees which once decorated the magnificent landscape, made of the sea, trulli,(characteristic homes of South Italy) and very ancient churches. Sentinels of an ancient and distant past , it is said, that have witnessed history passing: the legions of Augustus Caesr and the Turkish militia raids on the hunt for booty and slaves. “These areas are infested – says Donato Rossi with a frown, chairman of the National Federation of Olive-cultiviation of Confagricoltura(Federation of Agriulturers) – vegetables are no longer cultivated, these secular marvels have reduced to inanimate bodies”. And this is a result of the epidermy ‘Xylella Fastidiosa’, a restless bacterium which attacks the olive-trees bringing them slowly to a sure death. A plague, whose origins are still unknown: one thing is for sure, it was brought here from abroad, perhaps with some merchandise that came from Rotterdam.

The epidermy remind many of another pesti lance which had destroyed long stretches of the Italian flora, the red Palm Weevil, but with some differences: in that case it concerned an insect which if taken in time, was possible to root out from the bush, here instead we have a baccileum, that is even invisible and hence more dangerous. The disease transforms the olive-trees, the leaves change colour, they wither away truning brownish. These are inconfutabile signs of a disease that has maily hit the region of Puglia end 2013 and which in no less than two years has affected oone million trees and put at risk at least 5% of the oil-production. “It may seem like insignificant data but it isn’t– Rossi stressed – one need only think back to better oil-production years of our country which amounted to 5-7 million tons”.

A slap in the face to the economy of a region appropriately defined as the olive-grove of Europe. And also the wonders of Creation, of which these centruy-old trees are worthy representatives. And they are suffering from a cancer for which there is still no cure. “We have asked the government and Brussels to proceed with their research-work– explained the head of the Federation –today we are still testing. The procedure i sto save the tree as long a sit is possible, by ‘pruning’ the ill parts. However, at times it could be necessary to root it out”. In other words kill the host to avoid it spreading to other trees nearby. The trees that heal can be counted on your finger and it’s not enough, therefore to say that a cure has been found to save the olive-trees of Salento.

But an eye to disciminating the flora hit by the disease, which is still able to produce healthy fruits, which are eatable and not a risk to man. “ There’s a lot of wrong information around this thing. To be compromised by the Xylella, is only the quantity, not the quality of the product, it’s important to bear this in mind”. The reason being, if there has not been a drop in the sales, the risk is that we could trigger panic which may be more damaging than the disease itself, to a land that has been put to trial, above all from an economic point of view. This is why the trade-unions and olive-growers from Salento are asking for more support from Rome in order to be able to tackle the huge losses in earnings. “We are asking tax-relief in those areas affected by the phenomenon and concrete financial aid”. What is the purpose of insisting on claiming duties from companies which could mean ‘sinking’ then even more and damaging them more, in a country which produces 28% of olive-oil production and which imports huge quantities from Spain (world-leader in the sector).

The only positive note around this bleak picture is that the disease has not spread beyond the borders of Salento, “ we have had reports of a minor out break in the province of Brindisi and others in Corsica. But they are sporadic cases”. And for certain, if we had to know the symptoms, it would enable us to intervene in time where the disease is spreading. All this in order to avoid new ‘massacres’ of these precious witnesses of our ancient past.

Translation provided by Marina Stronati

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