by Jean-Marc Caimi and Valentina Piccinni

“Remember: the Lord, as He made heaven and Earth, is capable of ending everything, and we remain in the dark”

Rocco, 82, peasant

In the Salento peninsula of Puglia, over the past seven years a bacteria called Xylella Fastidiosa has caused the Olive Quick Decline Syndrome, a plant epidemic that rapidly kills the olive trees. The local natural environment including its ecosystem, has been completely subverted by the rise of this deadly plant pandemic. Xylella is a bacterial pathogen, transmitted by insect vectors that feed on the xylem, with a mechanism similar to that which causes the spread of malaria in human diseases. Climate change and pesticide use have been identified as some of the factors responsible for weakening the natural response of trees, allowing the massive expansion of the epidemic.
The presence of Xylella in the region was first identified by a group of scientists from Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR).  First recorded in Costa Rica this particular aggressive pest variant probably arrived in Puglia with the import of decorative plants. While no direct antidote to immunize the trees has been found, agronomists and scientists are working with a new approach to find solutions. In particular, experiments are undergoing using shoots of wild olive trees found still alive and germinating within pest-devastated areas. These shoots, showing a natural resilience to the bacteria, are handpicked by local farmers, prepared in dedicated greenhouses, tested and eventually grafted on more productive varieties. One of the hopes of the research is to create an immune “super-tree” healthy and productive able to maintain the uniqueness and characteristics of a local olive variety.
We took a passionate but careful approach to documenting this issue, exposing the very personal stories of farmers with the utmost concern for the tragic circumstances they are suffering. While photographing the region over a period of six years, sharing our daily lives with the farmers in the olive groves, we lived into an olive oil mill and set up our own darkroom there, so we could develop the films on site.
Working under the project title “This Land Is My Land”, we came up with “Fastidiosa”, that is now published as a book by Overlapse. Conducted with a multi-layered visual and content approach, it includes analogue black and white portraits, landscapes, details, along with colour images highlighting scientific research and experimental efforts, archival photographs and words from residents of the region.