The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) is a non-profit organization established by the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) in 1966.
The "new normal" conditions in Southeast Asia compels SEARCA and all of its key partners to initiate anew a paradigm shift towards accelerating transformation through agricultural innovation (ATTAIN).
Agriculture—the ability of people to produce their own food supply—is perhaps the most basic of all human enterprises and possibly the most important. More so today as world population continues to grow while the natural resources needed to feed them continue to shrink and are adversely affected by climate change. Aside from being a key to ensuring food security, growth in the agriculture sector has been known to be about twice as effective in reducing poverty compared to growth in other sectors. As such, agriculture remains a centerpiece of national development programs, including those of countries in Southeast Asia.
In light of these challenges and problems the region is confronted with today, it is with strong appreciation of the keen insights and astute long view of SEARCA's founders that the Center retraces its roots to its very beginning:
The education ministers of Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, together with a representative from the United States government, met to explore possible venues for regional cooperation in education, science, and culture. The historic meeting paved the way for an interim Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Secretariat (SEAMES) that recommended priority projects for the region, including instituting a Center for graduate study and research in agriculture. Having established an impressive reputation in the field of agricultural education, the then University of the Philippines College of Agriculture (UPCA) was considered as the ideal site. Dr. Dioscoro L. Umali, then Dean of UPCA, immediately called a select few of his colleagues to draft a position paper which advocated using the resources of existing institutions for the project instead of starting a new institution from scratch.
The Philippine delegation submitted the position paper to the SEAMES Technical Workshop held in Kuala, Lumpur, Malaysia. A Task Force was then formed to thoroughly evaluate the advisability of establishing an institute for graduate study and research in agriculture, recommend a framework for its operation, and the probable institution that would serve as its host. UPCA was recommended to be the host of the new institute of higher learning in agriculture.
The Second Conference of SEAMES held in Manila witnessed how the Philippine delegation stood steadfast in developing a plan for the merging of the proposed institute with the UPCA system. Encouraged by then Philippine Education Secretary Carlos P. Romulo, Dr. Gil F. Saguiguit, Dr. Umali, and Mr. Onofre D. Corpuz reworked the proposal until its approval on 27 November 1966. The institute was officially named "Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA)."
From 1967 to 1969, SEARCA operated on an interim status in which guidelines for the establishment of SEARCA, including its Enabling Instrument, were firmed up. An Interim Project Office was in place from 1 Juy 1967 to June 1969 with Dr. Umali as Director and Dr. Saguiguit as Assistant Director. The interim phase ended in June 1969 when the Letter of Agreement regarding SEARCA's establishment, operations and funding for a five-year period was signed by the SEARCA Director, SEAMES Acting Director, the Philippine Education Secretary representing the host government, and a representative of the Unites States government, which was the principal donor of funds during the interim period and the first five years of permanent existence of SEARCA.
Since 1969, SEARCA has evolved and operated under the guidance of Five-Year Plans (FYPs), each embodying an overall strategic theme that SEARCA operationalized through its core programs.
During the First and Second FYPs (1969-1974 and 1974-1979), SEARCA's priority thrust was the generation and transfer of productivity-enhancing agricultural technologies. The more notable research projects implemented by SEARCA included water resources management, protein gap, gene bank, agricultural information bank of Asia, corn commodity systems in Southeast Asia, social laboratory, downey mildew of corn, institutionalizing research management in Asia, and social and economic implications of high-yielding varieties.
In its Third FYP (1979-1984), SEARCA shifted its strategic thrust to the management of the sub-systems that constitute the agricultural system, including the development and management of irrigation systems, research systems, extension systems, post-production systems, and farming systems. In 1982, SEARCA adopted Farmers' Community Development (FCD) as the umbrella theme of its institutional efforts to improve the agricultural and rural conditions in Southeast Asia.
Agricultural and Rural Development was the overall theme of SEARCA's Fourth FYP (1984-1989), primarily through technology generation, verification, packaging, dissemination, and utilization. SEARCA periodically reviewed and updated its research agenda with a focus on the evolving technological imperatives of agricultural growth and development.
SEARCA's Fifth FYP (1989-1994) focused on evaluation and testing of agricultural development technologies and models to customize them to the needs and conditions of the SEAMEO member countries. SEARCA thus conducted applied and integrated R&D projects that consolidated the results of previous projects, instead of just conducting more new research. The emphasis later shifted to pilot-testing, application, and utilization of findings and insights from previous research.
In SEARCA's Sixth FYP (1994-1999), the Center intensified its thrust on developing and testing methodologies and approaches on the broad and complex area of agricultural development. Its major R&D projects included development of upland communities, agro-industrialization, gender and development, management of agricultural information, coastal area agriculture, and bio-fertilizer research.
SEARCA's Seventh FYP (1999-2004) was geared towards natural resource management and agro-industrial development as a response to the need to stimulating agro-industrial progress while preserving the integrity of the natural environment on which agricultural production depends. SEARCA conducted projects that promoted food security, biotechnology, water resource management, biodiversity conservation, environmental sustainability and risk management, gender, and policy.
The Eight and Ninth FYPs (2004-2009 and 2009-2014) of SEARCA adopted similar strategic themes: natural resource management (NRM) and agricultural competitiveness. NRM projects implemented were in the areas of sustainable land use and water management, climate change and risk management, and biodiversity conservation, while the initiatives to promote agricultural competitiveness covered trade and investment, technology management, governance, institutional reforms, and policy studies.
SEARCA's Tenth FYP focused on the overarching theme of Inclusive and Sustainable Agricultural and Rural Development (ISARD). With social inclusion and environmental sustainability as its defining elements, the ISARD strategic initiatives focused on action research and experiential learning projects and providing support to the ASEAN Economic Integration.
Starting 1 July 2020, SEARCA commits to accelerate transformation that elevates the quality of life of agricultural families through sustainable livelihoods and access to modern networks and innovative markets. Carried out in collaboration with key partners and stakeholders, these efforts are intended to contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. SEARCA will focus its efforts on promoting agri-business models for increased productivity and income, sustainable farming systems and natural resource management, food and nutrition security, transformational leadership for agriculture and rural development (ARD), gender and youth engagement in ARD, enhanced ARD towards climate resilience, and eco-health/one-health applications to ARD.