Dossier: Paisatges sonors - Observatori del Paisatge

sur la presse

21 Août 2005

Italy's wealthy north plunders south's ancient olive trees


The Guardian (Royaume-Uni) [Chronique]

The southern Italian region of Puglia is fighting the loss of its ancient olive trees, which are being uprooted and sold as chic accessories to wealthy homeowners in the north. Centuries-old trees, with their gnarled and twisted branches, can fetch as much as €12,000 (£8,125) and a flourishing black market has developed in the past five years.

Puglia, the most important olive-growing region in Italy with an estimated 50 million trees, is the first region to draft laws aimed at protecting its natural treasures. There will be steep fines for the removal of more than five trees per farm, and a promotional campaign is being launched to encourage the consumption of olive oil from the ancient trees.

'These trees are a piece of our history, our culture and our identity that we want to preserve for future generations,' said Puglia's Environmental Minister, Michele Losappio. 'It's not just enough to ban their removal, we also have to encourage the farm sector to protect and make the most of olive trees, which is why we came up with the idea of a label certifying that ancient trees have been used in the production of extra-virgin olive oil.'

Spain, Greece and Palestine have also been hit by the trade in olive trees and in Italy prices have risen dramatically in the past few years. In 1999 wealthy buyers were paying €1,200 for a tree, but now prices start at €5,000 for a 100-year-old specimen and up to €12,000 for a tree that is 500 years old.

While the business of shipping trees up to the north of Italy, to areas such as the Veneto and Lombardy, has been a money-spinner for some time, the sheer numbers involved has been ringing alarm bells, according to the Italian news agency Ansa.

Environmentalists have been campaigning for something to be done, saying that the trend is altering the traditional landscape and stealing an irreplaceable part of southern Italy's heritage.

There have also been reports of profiteers paying the trees' owners - often elderly, isolated farmers - a few hundred euros for their old trees and selling them on at greatly hiked prices.

A lively trade in stolen trees, a particular problem also in Spain, has also developed with thieves descending on remote spots in the middle of the night with mechanical diggers. Gaping holes in the rich, red earth of Puglia are all that are left of trees which have withstood centuries of wind, rain and sun.

Environmentalists are also concerned that the uprooted trees will not flourish in the north of Italy and many die prematurely because of the cold weather there. Olive trees can tolerate light frosts, but a heavy freeze can kill the olive crop or even the entire tree.

Legal vendors, meanwhile, justify their actions by saying that, having reached the end of their productive life, the trees are destined to be cut down anyway, and selling them to be replanted in city gardens or farms in the north saves them from the axe.


© 2008/2023 Observatori del Paisatge de Catalunya / Hospici, 8 - 17800 OLOT - Tel: +34 972 27 35 64 ·