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Spotlight On IFS Alumni ~ Dr Phoutthasone Sibounnavong from Laos

Published: 2017-09-27

As a recurring feature of our IFS blog, we are periodically turning the spotlight on one of our alumni. When IFS staff members travel, they are meeting and interviewing our former grantees to discover more about the impact they are having in their countries. Our present Alumni Spotlight is on Dr Phoutthasone Sibounnavong, interviewed by Nathalie Persson in March 2017. She says, “I keep reminding early-career scientists to use their capacity for observation, think about the issues to be addressed from their observations, and try to find answers.” We hope you enjoy this feature of our website.

Dr. Phoutthasone Sibounnavong Nighisty Ghezae, IFS Director

What are your current work, research and position?
At my university, I am the head of the Plant Protection Unit with the goal to develop a department within the next two years. As my background is biotechnology in plant pathology, I am interested in microbiology, fungi and mushrooms, to find beneficial microorganisms to control plant diseases. The Lao government strategy is to develop organic agriculture and support farmers. My research is meant to contribute to this by promoting biological control to find environmentally-friendly solutions for farmers

What have you been doing since completing your research project as an IFS grantee?
Shortly after my IFS grant, I successfully completed my PhD in 2012 and I started to work at the Faculty of Agriculture of the National University of Laos. I am still in of leading a unit.

What role did the IFS grant play in your professional life?
IFS has been useful for my career because research funds are limited in a developing country like Laos, so the IFS grant encouraged me to start seriously in research. I still can remember how my tears of happiness came out of my eyes when I received the email message to inform me that my application was approved by IFS. I have been working with different research topics after my IFS project was completed, though I did not continue in the same direction as I did not get a renewal grant from IFS. I was interested to remain in research and I continued in different projects depending on the available funding that I could secure.

What continuing involvement with IFS have you had since completing your project?
Even after the grant, IFS offers visibility and networking for its grantees. In 2013, I applied successfully for a travel grant to present my IFS project results at the 12th European Fusarium Seminar in Bordeaux, France. This was useful to have an experience of presentation to an international audience, to meet with other scientists working on Fusarium, and especially for me to listen to and meet other researchers in the field of biological control
of plant diseases caused by the fungus. It not only gave me an opportunity to learn about recent work, but also to enlarge my scientific network. As a former IFS grantee, in 2015 I was invited to attend and present my research results at a
regional conference in Luang Prabang, Laos. This again was a good networking opportunity with other IFS grantees who attended the event. Likewise this year, on the basis that I am a former grantee, I attended another workshop organized and supported by partners of IFS: the National Research Council of Thailand and Mahidol University. Besides these opportunities through IFS support to bring scientists together, even well after my IFS grant was completed, I share the information about the IFS grant programme with young colleagues and scientists whom I meet at different events. I really make it clear for them that IFS is a good organization to support young scientists.

From your perspective, what are some of the most pressing issues in science and research?
Climate change and the environment is one issue. Another is the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers that are harming the environment. Laos is a member of the WTO and ASEAN and this implies an orientation towards organic agriculture. This is a major issue to be addressed by research to help farmers develop sound agriculture practices. People are more aware of food safety as well, and organic agriculture is more appealing to them. We
cannot stop the use of chemicals at this point, but we need to think of and offer alternatives that are good for people and the environment. As an example, we have huge banana plantations in Laos. Foreign investors are present, they occupy land, use pesticides, destroy the environment, water and soil and this has an impact on people’s health. This needs to be addressed through research.

In your view, what is the role of science for development in your country?
A science-based society is absolutely necessary for the development of Laos. There are many fights to face: poverty in its multiple dimensions, environmental degradation, protection of our natural resources, insufficient economic and agriculture development, a sustainable social development, and equity in the use of natural resources, and solutions need to be knowledge-based. The choice to develop technologies must offer a sustainable development model. Such informed decisions use the results of research and therefore I think there is no option but strengthening research capacity in Laos for the development of our country.

What advice do you have for early-career scientists like you once were?
As a lecturer, of course, I keep reminding early-career scientists to use their capacity for observation, think about the issues to be addressed from their observations, and try to find answers. This is a way to behave as a scientist. I always encourage them not to give up.

What have been some of the most exciting or rewarding experiences in your professional and / or personal life?
As I learned to like working in microbiology and especially in discovering beneficial microorganisms that can make a difference for our farmers’ agricultural practices while they fight against pests, this is a rewarding experience, to generate useful outputs that help Lao farmers and we work towards environmentally-friendly solutions.

Nighisty Ghezae, IFS Director

Thank you. Hope you enjoyed this feature and keep an eye on our next  spotlight  of our alumni.                                                                                                                        Dr. Nighisty Ghezae, IFS Director


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