Threat of Xylella – Is it really that conspicuous? For the last decade, Xylella fastidiosa has become known among farmers and plant pathologists as one of the most important issues which threaten global plant health. Xylella fastidiosa is a bacterial pathogen which has caused extreme damage in a range of plant species, in particular on citrus plants, grapevines and olive trees.
Xylella fastidiosa has been recently discovered in the southern parts of Europe, where it has caused severe devastation to olive orchards. Olive trees are ever more a victim to the olive quick decline syndrome caused by Xylella. Especially, in the regions of Apulia, Italy and southern Spain.
Caption: Uprooted olives infected by Xylella ©Shutterstock
There in particular, nurseries and farms were left with no choice but to destroy, in some cases, centuries-old Xylella infected olive trees, which had undeniable cultural heritage.
Since 2013, Xylella fastidiosa has been spreading to multiple regions of Europe, and now can be found in France, and Portugal.. Consequently, the threat of Xylella fastidiosa in Europe is on the rise!
Recognizing the high threat of Xylella
As Xylella fastidiosa is a relatively newly introduced plant pathogen in Europe, the general pubic is unaware of the eminent threat of Xylella fastidiosa. In some cases, symptoms of Xylella fastidiosahave even appeared in people’s gardens without any recognition or action being taken to prevent Xylella from spreading.
Symptoms are often mistaken for common signs of plant dehydration leading to further spread and damage. As a result, many people remain unaware of Xylella’s existence.
Caption: Symptoms of Xylella ©Shutterstock
Which plants can have Xylella?
If your plants are showcasing symptoms of Xylella, such as leaf scorching, dieback, leaf abscission or leaf discolouration, then here the first thing you have to do. First of all, cross-check whether or not your plant belongs to the EFSA global database on the Xylella host list. To date, there are almost 600 species of plants which can host this bacterial pathogen. Click here to view the database.
Once you confirm that your plant is indeed a potential host, please contact your local plant health authority.
7 reasons why you should care about the threat of Xylella
It is without question that, Xylella is a huge threat to global plant health. Most noteworthy, it has the potential to severely impact EU’s agriculture. Here are the top 7 reasons why you should care about the threat of Xylella.
1. The threat of Xylella is high
Just last week, it was announced by the French authorities, that Xylella fastidiosa has been found in southern France, Occitanie. It was discovered in a lavender sample during a routine inspection. The announcement from the French Ministry of Agriculture released in September (2020) confirmed that the threat of Xylella is not to be underestimated. Now, many fear that the famous lavender fields will be at Xylella’s mercy and will slowly start to disappear.
Moreover, the French agro-tourism is now at high risk of being exposed to massive socio-economic losses in this region. Just imagine, all those wonderful fields of lavender, slowly turning brown and dying out. Yes, this is the reality when it comes finding Xylella in your region.
Caption: Xylella infected olives ©Shutterstock
2. Xylella spreads rapidly
Xylella spreads via xylem feeding insects such as spittle bugs. The insects carry the bacteria and infect the plant when feeding (inserting a stylet into the xylem). Since it is spread by the bugs, it is very hard to control the rate of its spread.
The EU has introduced new legislation as regards preventing Xylella from spreading by establishing carefully defined containment zones. However, even these containment zones sometimes are no match for Xylella as more and more cases are being reported across Europe.
Caption: Spittle bug ©Shutterstock
3. There is no cure
This is by far the most significant reason as to why you should care about the threat of Xylella. Unfortunately, there is no cure! Once your plant is infected, all you can do is wait until your plant dies. Some plants are even burned.
The symptoms are completely irreversible. Now, take a moment to imagine if an olive orchard (sometimes hectares large) gets infected. Row after row, you would see the slow deterioration of the olive trees. Regrettably, this is the case in Apulia (southern Italy) and Spain. EU scientists are therefore focusing their efforts to find a curative solution!
Caption: Jose G. Madero from DOMCA SA (Project Manger) ©DOMCA SA
4. Economic threat of Xylella
Just in the region of Apulia alone, the economic impact of Xylella is estimated to have caused €1.2 billion in damage. Moreover, more than 100,000 jobs have been lost in this region because olive oil production practically diminished in some farms.
So, further spread of Xylella meaning total economic devastation in all olive-growing areas in Europe. It is estimated that a total of €100,000 is lost per infected hectare of olive trees.
Caption: Olive Farm in Mallorca ©AIMERIT SL
5. Olive oil prices could go up
Do you love olive oil? Well, next time you take a spoonful of olive oil, consider the fact that prices are likely to go up due to losses in olive production. In Apulia, olive oil production collapsed by 65%-80%.
Caption: Harvested olives ©Shutterstock
6. Centuries-old trees are dead
Many olive trees are sometimes centuries-old. Some even live up to 1,000 years. Unfortunately, even these trees are not immune to the threat of Xylella.
Caption: Xylella infected region ©Shutterstock
7. Fires and abandonment of plantations
Due to the fact that infected regions need to be contained, this has led to the desertification of entire regions. What was once a thriving region becomes somewhat of an abandoned area. Some farmers even resist abandoning their plantations in the hopes of trying to save their trees – which is at this stage impossible.
Caption: Uprooted trees due to Xylella infection ©Shutterstock
Is Xylella a serious threat to Europe?
In short, the answer is yes. At this point, the threat of Xylella is very high. Nurseries, farmers and commercial partners need to be on high alert. In addition, the general public should also take care when it comes to monitoring the symptoms of Xylella in their garden. One never knows.
Addressing the threat of Xylella in Europe
The rise in Xylella cases has also led to the rise of a number of EU initiatives to combat the problem of Xylella in Europe, in order to introduce bio-based preventative and curative measures. These EU initiatives comprise a collaboration among scientists, farmers and other stakeholders to inform the general public on the threat of Xylella and help them understand the impact of this dangerous pathogen.
Caption: BIOVEXO Work Package – Task Force Meeting ©DOMCA SA
Global initiatives to address the threat of Xylella
Did you know that the United Nations General Assembly declared this year (2020) as the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH)? As such, the UN is taking measures to raise global awareness on protecting plant health, the environment and boosting economic development.
On a global scale, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO hereafter) estimates that about 40% of food crops are destroyed due to the presence of plant pests and plant diseases. This not only damages agriculture but also leaves millions of people without income and food.
Caption: IYPH 2020 ©FAO
The FAO argues, that protective measures are far more cost effective than addressing ‘full plant health emergencies’. For this reason, the BIOVEXO project focuses strongly on preventive measures, in order to avoid the severe impact of pests and diseases. Click here to take action and raise awareness on plant health in your area.
Future threat of Xylella
Unfortunately, the threat of Xylella in the future is still very high. Solutions to cure the infections as well as prevent them are needed to reduce this threat. Stay informed with www.biovexo.eu.
Caption: Xylella infected olive tree ©Shutterstock
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