The EU's Mediterranean area is responsible for approximately 20% of the worlds citrus production and 70% of global citrus exports.
Citrus fruits are vulnerable to a disease called Huanlongbing (HLB) or citrus greening. This is caused by a bacterium, Candidatus Liberibacter spp. Although it has not entered Europe yet, the disease infected 40 countries between 2005 and 2009, causing up to 60% losses. This pandemic is spread through vector insects, one of which,Trioza erytreae, was found in northwest Spain as recently as 2014 and has since spread through Portugal.
HLB has no known cure and current control measures have a high negative environmental impact, needing heavy doses of chemical insecticides and eradication of trees. To compound the problem, early detection is difficult given that visible symptoms appear too late. Climate change, among other challenges, exacerbates the spread of diseases, including HLB.
The LIFE Vida for Citrus project's objectives are to: contribute to the early diagnosis of HLB by developing a commercialisable early detection kit; test new pathogen- and heat-tolerant rootstocks that can be adapted to Mediterranean citrus production and increase plant resilience; demonstrate techniques to effectively control vector spread and increase defence in the entire ecosystem with sustainable agricultural practices, while providing other environmental co- benefits; promote international cooperation and involve the EUs Outermost Regions in strategies to avoid HLB entry and contain potential spread; create a replicable model of agricultural practices for vector/disease prevention for citrus growers in EU, while increasing their capacity to adapt to climate change; demonstrate how to reduce chemical usage in line with the EU Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive 2009/128/EC.
Expected results: select and test at least three or four new citrus rootstocks which have a potential tolerance to HLB and more extreme climate patterns in the Mediterranean region, in different trials for oranges, lemons, and mandarins; demonstrate sustainable practices over 45 ha in nine productive citrus orchards in Spain, Italy, France and Portugal and at least 1000 trees in an urban setting (Seville); contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of approximately 1 000 tons of CO2 after three years by reducing phytosanitary applications and increasing carbon capture; prepare a handbook of best practices which includes a proposal for HLB prevention and management and natural vector control measures for both citrus production and citrus trees in green urban spaces; develop an early HLB detection kit and a supporting manual, and test this in Portugal and Spain where the vectors are present, and in Guadeloupe where infection is already present; increase awareness among around 450 000 people in the EU, including farmers and citizens, plant nurseries, extension and plant protection services, urban gardening departments and the citrus sector (including companies which trade in ornamental citrus); create a market-based replication effort in at least 20 areas, including cities and plantations across all four countries involved; increase local biodiversity by at least 10% by introducing auxiliary flora and fauna to citrus orchards, in line with the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy.
The tested adaptation measures will help citrus fruit production systems become more sustainable and resilient. In this way the project will contribute to adaptation to climate change in the priority area of agriculture as required by the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change.