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Proyecto April 29, 2021

The Olive Trees Apocalypse

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A 1000-year-old olive tree infected by Xylella fastidiosa.
A 1000-year-old olive tree infected by Xylella fastidiosa. Image by Stefano Petroni, Italy, 2018.

Xylella fastidiosa is a bacteria that chokes plants to death. It reached southern Italy in 2013, and since then, it has killed one-third of the 60 million olive trees of Puglia, the region that produces 12 percent of the world's olive oil. Xylella is subjecting the area to an unprecedented crisis, upending thousands of family businesses.

The fate of the trees mirrors a country's political failures in facing plant epidemics and exposes the dark sociological underbelly of a population held back by conspiracy theories. Most people ignored the science that recommended drastic containment measures, and the disease spread like wildfire. Globalization, in the form of cross-border plant trade, might indeed put an end to the Mediterranean olive oil production.

But there is hope: An unreported solution to this disease might come from scientists who are working towards creating hybrid resistant plants. The reader will discover the fascinating, largely unknown world of olive farming, which foreshadows the challenges that crops will face in the future.

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