It was in the winter of 2018 when Juan Escandell first noticed something was wrong. Leaves on some of his olive trees were withering and turning brown, while the fruits shrivelled and died.
Three years ago, he had never heard of Xylella fastidiosa. Two years ago, Mr Escandell first read about it in the news. By last year, he saw for himself the devastation the bacterium brings to olive trees. A fifth of Mr Escandell’s groves on the island of Ibiza are now visibly infected by Xylella – a figure that is likely to rise.
Believed to originate from Central America, Xylella, which has no known cure, causes several, often deadly, diseases in crops of high economic value, including olives, almonds, vines, citrus and stone fruits.
Carried plant-to-plant by insects known as spittlebugs, Xylella causes plants to wither and die of thirst.
The bacterium was first detected in Europe in 2013 in Italy’s Puglia region, where it has killed millions of trees, destroying livelihoods and the region’s olive oil industry.
So far, losses have exceeded €1.2 billion (Dh4.9bn).
Xylella, considered one of the “most dangerous plant bacteria worldwide” by the European Commission, has since been confirmed in Corsica, the Balearic Islands, southern France, Spain, Portugal and Germany.