Seville wants to stop the disease that threatens orange trees in a sustainable way

by Lorraine Williamson
Seville orange trees

SEVILLE – One in four trees in Seville is an orange tree. The city has 45,000 of them. However, these trees are under threat and the municipality is now coming up with an initiative to avert that threat. 

Seville opens a centre to prevent the ‘pest’ of citrus fruits.  The city council is, therefore, part of a European network that wants to stop the spread of the ‘yellow dragon disease’ without pesticides. There are so many orange trees in the Andalucian city. Therefore, it is an ideal location to test a sustainable method against the orange tree plague. This plague has destroyed numerous orange trees in the US. Moreover, it is now knocking at the gates of Seville and elsewhere throughout Europe. 

‘Life for Citrus’ 

It concerns the ‘Life for Citrus’ programme, in which a total of 12 partners from Spain, Portugal, France and Italy participate. It is co-financed by the European Commission and aims to protect citrus fruits in the Mediterranean region from the yellow dragon. For example, the ‘huanglongbing’ bacteria are known. The aim is to disseminate sustainable control strategies that enable early detection of the infection to prevent its entry. Once the bacterium is in the tree, it gradually dies due to defoliation and drought. 

Spain has been on alert for years after the above-mentioned bacterium was detected. During the summer of 2019, park and garden technicians of the Seville City Council received the necessary training to warn about these insects and prevent their spread. This is already being done in the US or Brazil, but with very aggressive methods and the use of chemicals. 

Seville is now testing a low-impact system that will later be exported to other capitals and municipalities. The program creates a biological and preventive control room for the health of citrus trees in a public park in the city. 

Here is an orchard where cover meadows are planted to promote the presence of pollinating insects and other aids against the bad bacteria. This strategy is respectful of the environment as it minimizes the need to use pesticides. 

Related post: Orange crisis in Valencia causes drama season for farmers 

Cogesa Expats

In the park, compatible shrubs will be planted. Also, an insect hotel and nesting boxes for local bird species will be installed to complete the hot ecosystem. The intention is that farmers will also become acquainted with this natural technique. 

Green Heritage 

“Citrus trees, and the orange tree, in particular, are part of the city’s green heritage, culture and history,” said David Guevara, Municipal Representative for Ecological Transition, in El Confidencial. According to him, these prevention tasks anticipate solutions to the problems identified in other cities in Europe and Spain. In addition, they show the municipal commitment to the environment. 

Perfumes, marmalade and energy source 

If the yellow dragon attacked the orange trees of Seville, the plague would completely change the look of the city. Consequently, technicians recommend removing the trees within 500 metres of an infected specimen. 

Tree from China brought to Spain by Moors 

The bitter orange tree originates from China and was introduced in the 10th century by Muslims who wanted to use the orange blossom (Azahar) to make perfumes. Today, the bitter oranges, the fruit of these trees that adorn the streets, squares and parks of Seville, are collected and used for the production of compost and cosmetics. In addition, they are used to feed the goats in livestock farms and even as fuel or to generate electricity. 

Related post: Seville generates clean energy with bitter oranges 

This last application is new. For several years, the utility company Emasesa has been generating clean energy using orange juice from these trees. One thousand kilos of oranges produce the equivalent of the consumption of five households per day. The juice is used for this, but the peel and the remaining parts of the orange that cannot be used go to a composting machine that converts them into manure for the fields of the province of Seville. A good example of the circular economy. 

Marmalade for the British Queen 

The bitter orange trees that stand in the Alcázar of Seville also nurture a lost tradition that was picked up again a few years ago and dates back to the reign of Alfonso XIII. He and his English wife Victoria Eugenia loved the jam of this bitter orange, marmalade. Since then and until the 1980s, the fruits of the Alcázar were sent to court in Great Britain. In 2019, then-mayor Manuel del Valle decided to restore the tradition and send the citrus fruits to the British Embassy in Madrid to take them to Queen Elizabeth II. One more reason to protect the citrus fruits of the city of 45,000 orange trees. 

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