FIXYLL, a promising project in the fight against Xylella fastidiosa 

UNAPROL sheds the light on Xylella fastidiosa, one of the most dangerous bacteria that particularly affects olive trees, causing massive environmental and economic damage, and how FIXYLL may improve the situation in southern Italy.

For the past eight years or so, olive growing in Puglia has been affected by Xylella fastidiosa, a phytopathogenic bacterium that causes olive trees to dry up to the point of death, with serious repercussions on the local economy, particularly affecting the income of a large number of olive grower families. Currently, the mode used to combat the bacterium is the eradication of infected plants.

Since there is still no scientifically proven method to treat plants affected by Xylella fastidiosa, control of the main vector Philaenus spumarius L., whose adults in spring-summer tend to move to shrub and tree plants, including olive trees, is of paramount importance to limit the spread of the infection.

The FIXYLL (FIght XYLeLla fastidiosa) project aims to implement a plurality of precision farming services to support the fight against Xylella fastidiosa through remote sensing techniques, primarily by satellite and, in case a high spatial resolution is needed, with drones, in order to make the activities related to field controls faster, more reliable and exhaustive, in compliance with European and national requirements for the fight against the bacterium. 

The project pursues the strategic objective of enabling a significant leap in quality both in monitoring methodologies and in the reconstruction of the dynamics of the infection: through the adoption of the technologies used and their applications, it will be possible to carry out a large-scale analysis unthinkable with direct field verification actions alone.

The FIXYLL project will last 18 months and will be implemented by the Distretto Tecnologico Aerospaziale (DTA) of Brindisi (Apulia, Italy), in collaboration with Planetek Italia and UNAPROL, thanks to funding from the Italian Space Agency (ASI). This is a partnership that integrates nationally and internationally recognised scientific and technical expertise in the specific field of intervention, complementary and synergistic with respect to the objectives and results to be achieved.

Under the project, research and development activities will be carried out to integrate current bacterial vector monitoring and control activities with state-of-the-art technologies. In particular, FIXYLL aims to develop a series of services for use by the Apulia Region, but also reusable in other phytosanitary emergency situations and consisting of:

(1) Identification of vigorous olive plants;

(2) Graphic visualisation of the dynamics of infection spread;

(3) Verification of applications of regional prescriptions;

(4) Validation of explanted plants for second-level validation of explants.

As part of the project, UNAPROL, representing farmers in affected and at-risk areas engaged in the fight against the spread of Xylella fastidiosa, has the task of contributing to the definition of the services to be developed and their final validation.

In its mission of enhancing the olive supply chain, UNAPROL’s priority interest is both the advancement of scientific research on the subject of combating Xylella fastidiosa and the adoption and monitoring of prevention and containment actions, in the wake of the Guidelines drawn up at the European level and the specific actions taken at the national and regional levels. It is therefore a priority for UNAPROL to undertake increasingly incisive actions to prevent and contain the epidemic, such as:

– Countering the insect vector of the infection

– Removal of desiccated plants

– Replanting and reconversion through resistant olive cultivars

– Replanting to other resistant fruit crops

While the bacterium continues its spread, as confirmed by the Xylella monitoring dashboard, the solutions offered by new technologies and their application in agriculture allow us to look more optimistically at the development of new and more effective control methods.