Efforts to keep Portugal free of a deadly plant plague that could bankrupt olive and almond producers have failed.
After all the warnings, Xylella fastidiosa – a bacteria for which there is no cure – has been confirmed in Vila Nova de Gaia.
It arrived ‘on the back of ornamental Lavandula plants’ that acted as carriers, without exhibiting any signs of the disease, reports Público.
Warning over a year ago that this plague could spell economic drama, experts believe one of the only ways of staunching its effects is to cut down trees within a 100-metre radius of the ‘first signs’ click here
This is apparently what will have to go ahead now in Vila Nova de Gaia.
According to Público, ‘susceptible plants’ within a 100-metre radius are to be analysed “over the next few days”, while “plants sensitive to the bacterial agent” will be identified over a much wider (5 km) radius.
In parallel, public notices have been drawn up to explain to local people what is afoot, while all the Lavandula plants (it is not explained from which country they were imported) have to be destroyed.
Público’s article explains that “the most dramatic consequences of the arrival in Portugal” of Xylella fastidiosa could be concentrated in the Alentejo “where there are tens of millions of olive, almond and other fruit trees offering the ideal habitat for the plague’s propagation”.
At serious risk are “large areas of intensive and super-intensive olive growing”, ie monocultures.
Adding to the troubles ahead is the fact that this disease is not limited to olives, almonds and fruit trees: cork oaks, medronho trees and bushes and many varieties of grape are also susceptible to what has essentially become one of the most “dangerous plant bacteria in the world”.
Insects are the ‘vectors’ that spread the disease which lives in plants’ connective tissue.
2015 seems to be the date that Xylella fastidiosa first showed itself to be active in southern Europe, and since then it has been all downhill.
Our climate works against us: the winters are simply not harsh enough to kill the bacteria, and it flourishes in hot, dry conditions.
Said tabloid Correio da Manhã back in November 2017, there are roughly 37,000 businesses in the Alentejo that will now be “terrified” of what the future holds.
Even if they suspect they have an outbreak of the plague on their properties, “which producer will have the courage to say it if the consequence will be to cull all trees within a 100 metre radius and have nothing more to do with the land” queried one of the businessmen featured in the paper’s report.
In Italy, where the disease was confirmed in 2015, authorities have ‘extended’ what is called the ‘demarcated area’ to a 20 km radius. Despite all containment efforts, the disease rapidly spread to France, Germany and Spain. It has also been identified on the islands of Corsica, Mallorca and Ibiza.