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date: 25 April 2017

Abstract and Keywords

The development and rapid adoption of genetically engineered, virus-resistant papaya for Hawaii was an early, rare successful case of a small-scale horticultural crop improved for farmers of mostly modest means by the public sector. Demand was potentially great because the technology addressed a crop-destroying disease for which there were—and are—no alternative solutions. The developers of the technology promoted diffusion with a philanthropic spirit of public-sector universities and personal commitment. Success in Hawaii demonstrated that the technology could benefit papaya growers world-wide. To replicate that success, Thailand was among the first countries to work to adapt the technology. The greatest challenge facing those charged with introducing virus-resistant transgenic papaya into Thailand turned out not to be a technical but political one as Greenpeace targeted virus-resistant papaya as the likely first GE crop to be grown in the country and thus, a gateway for other GE crops. The subsequent anti-GE papaya campaigns foiled biotechnology in Thailand and throughout Southeast Asia, which is puzzling because many biotech crops being developed in that region have similar potential to benefit smallholder farmers, impact the environment positively, and address major nutritional challenges. Many are developed by the public sector. Had Thailand successfully promoted transgenic papaya despite opposition from Greenpeace, governments and scientific agencies across Southeast Asia might have been encouraged by the success story and continued to use the tools of biotechnology in their own agricultural sectors to confront rapidly mounting global agricultural challenges. That this best-case scenario for biotechnology—a pro-poor papaya developed in the public sector without multinational property claims—has not reached resource-poor farmers in the developing world almost twenty years after its release in Hawaii offers lessons larger than a minor crop. The case aids in understanding the reasons for the limited spread of biotechnology for small farmers globally and the dimensions of opposition and reasons for success of opposition to all transgenics technologies.

Keywords: papaya, Hawaii, agriculture, farmers, virus-resistant, transgenic, Thailand, Greenpeace, biotechnology

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