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Deadly disease threatens olives


While Europe's and the world's people are facing the deadly Covid-19, an important part of Europe's culture and economy is facing a threat from a different disease that kills olive trees.

The Xylella fastidiosa bacterium was spotted in Puglia, in Italy in 2013, transmitted by sap-sucking insects such as the unfortunately named spittlebugs. The infection interferes with a tree's ability to move water and nutrients to its branches, causing it to die.

In the areas where it was first found, olive production is down by as much as 60%, causing a rise in prices for what remains. The situation is likely to grow worse, as infected trees have now been found in other major olive-growing areas in Spain, Greece and Portugal. The four countries account for 95% of Europe's olive production. 

Because there is no known way to cure the disease, the only effective measure to save other trees is to remove and burn the infected ones, and to search early for trees showing signs of the disease. It can also affect cherry and almond trees but so far has not caused a major problem.

Photo: blighted olive trees in Italy

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