Founder of Prince of Songkla University’s Faculty of Natural Resources is SEARCA’s Outstanding Alumnus
In 1973, when Dr. Chya Suthiwanith was offered to set up a Faculty of Natural Resources for the Prince of Songkla University (PSU) at the southern part of Thailand, he felt he was not ready. He had just finished his PhD in Agricultural Education at the University of the Philippines Los Baños in 1972 through a SEARCA scholarship, so he asked a more senior “Ajahn” or professor to take on the task. However, this senior professor had confidence in Dr. Chya’s capabilities and encouraged him to accept the challenge.
In October 1975, PSU’s Faculty of Natural Resources was formally established with Dr. Chya Suthiwanith as its first dean. On the other hand, his senior Ajahn—Dr. Sam Arng Srinilta—went on to become a Visiting Professor at SEARCA and later its Deputy Director for Programs.
The PSU’s Faculty was established to develop a body of knowledge in agriculture and natural resources appropriate to local conditions. Dr. Chya’s vision was to produce graduates who can effectively use natural resources with little impact, if any, on the environment and the community. This concept was ahead of its time and still remains the Faculty's calling to this day.
Dr. Chya’s skills in human relations and staff selection were instrumental in drawing good, capable, and committed professionals in what was then considered a remote academic outpost, where very few people based in Bangkok would want to work.
The Faculty started accepting students in 1977, with about 60 undergraduates. By 2007, when Dr. Chya retired, the Faculty was able to produce close to 4,000 undergraduate and 600 graduate students. Each year, the Faculty also admits an average of 400 students. Many of its graduates are well recognized both in the government and private sectors. But one distinct characteristic of these graduates are their inclination toward integrated farming and practicing sustainable agriculture in terms of agroforestry and mixed farming.
During his retirement, Dr. Chya introduced an innovative way of extracting latex from rubber trees and established his rubber plantation. Until now, his plantation is frequented by students, extension workers, and farmers from all over Thailand to learn, train, and experience what is now called his Rubber Plantation College.
For his visionary leadership and governance, Dr. Chya has been named one of the Outstanding SEARCA Scholarship Alumni awardees. The award gives recognition to SEARCA’s graduate alumni who have personified SEARCA’s values and philosophy and have distinguished themselves through their personal achievements, professional accomplishments, public service, and other meritorious endeavors. This is the first time since its establishment that SEARCA will be giving such prestigious recognition to its alumni who it considers as ambassadors for agriculture and rural development in the region. Dr. Chya and 10 other OSSA laureates will be awarded during SEARCA’s golden anniversary celebration on 25 November 2016.