By S. Duncan
Imagine you are a smallholder farmer in Vietnam. Your papaya and sweet potato crops were just decimated by viral disease. Your children are malnourished, and you worry they will go blind from Vitamin A deficiency. As you look out over your devastated crop, you know the key to your children’s health lies in those plants you’ll never harvest. You’re one of two million people directly engaged in papaya and sweet potato cultivation in the region, and you worry all of you face a similar bleak outlook.
You peak into your neighbor’s fields and are shocked to find his plants strong and healthy.
What did he do that you didn’t?
It turns out your neighbor has been working with Stan Flasinski.
Flasinski is a Monsanto researcher in St. Louis who helped develop viral control for papaya and sweet potato in Southeast Asia. By sharing technical know-how in molecular biology with agricultural researchers in the developing world, Flasinski was able to provide benefits toward solving a significant regional problem in two crops on which Monsanto doesn’t even work.
Flasinski serves as a virology consultant for the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) in Asia and Africa, and as a member of its Papaya Biotechnology Network for Southeast Asia. During his involvement in these groups, Flasinski recognized an opportunity to help farmers by sharing Monsanto expertise.
“Stan’s involvement in international cooperation initiatives has enabled national scientists to gain significantly from his expertise and experience in addressing papaya production problems in the region through the applications of modern biotechnology,” Randy Hautea, ISAAA director for South East Asia region, said. “This private-public interface has demonstrated the effectiveness of South-North collaborative initiatives which has significantly enhanced the research and development continuum.”
Through training and technical guidance, Flasinski helped local research teams in Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, India, the Philippines and Malaysia create viral-resistant crops that are now in their third year of field evaluations. His work raised their abilities to enable crop transformation techniques, address biotechnology regulatory issues, conduct biosafety risk assessments, manage intellectual property and increase regional networking--but not without first overcoming some challenges.
“There are always challenges to introducing new technology to countries that did not use this technology before,” Flasinski said. “One of the top challenges is that we are bringing top modern technology to labs that are not as well equipped as Monsanto labs, supplies are not always available and funding is very limited. Additionally, agrobacterim-based papaya transformation was not well developed. Papaya is difficult to transform.”
Flasinski’s success could serve as a model for additional disease-resistance collaborations that significantly affect small acreage, subsistence crops that are integral to many Asian communities. The extensive training delivered also allows local researchers more autonomy in executing future projects.
“The value of virus resistance in papaya has been proven in Hawaii. I am hoping that in Asia we will deliver resistant papaya to farmers,” Flasinksi said. “Papaya is very popular food that can provide fresh fruits year around for many years. These products feed local communities and are a substantial source of local income to the small farmer. We just have to believe in final success of a product tested now in field trials. There is enormous desire for success in all scientists from the Papaya Network.”