Plants, Pathogens and the Politics of Care: Xylella fastidiosa and the intra-active breakdown of Mallorca’s almond ecology

Authors: Emily Reisman*,
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Agricultural Geography, Rural Geography
Keywords: moe-than-human, care, agroecology, Xylella fastidiosa, almond, Spain
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Harding, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Almonds were once “the gold of Mallorca,” a source of modest wealth and pillar of diversified farming systems for small-holders on the largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands. Now researchers believe nearly every almond tree on the island will be dead within five years. The introduced bacteria Xylella fastidiosa, enabled by its spittle-bug vector, and emboldened by climate change, has flooded the xylem of these rainfed trees, impeding the flow of fluid and nutrients until the tree can no longer survive. There is little remedy in sight. Representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture explain the failing trees as produced by “lack of care;” land owners no longer maintain the trees, they report, because the island’s economy has shifted toward tourism. Almond growers who worried for years about the mysterious decline of their trees describe a “lack of care” by bureaucrats and others who long ago dismissed farming as uneconomical and neglected its role in maintaining Mallorca’s landscapes. As the threat of Xylella spreads to mainland Spain, a campaign to destroy all diseased trees performs landscape purification which is fiercely challenged by farmers arguing for living-with Xylella. This paper enrolls feminist theorizations of care (Puig de la Bellacasa 2017), material-semiotics (Haraway 1988) and agential realism (Barad 2007) to deepen the ethical implications of a plant epidemic. I argue that theorizing a plant epidemic as intra-active allows us to understand the power relations of pathogenicity and shift from purification toward a politics of more-than-human care.

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