Reorienting R&D in HEIs can spark agri food systems transformation

  • By Leah Lyn D. Domingo
  • 18 August 2020

"The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the connections between supply chains and our consumption patterns, and the urgent need to redefine agricultural systems as food systems. A systemic view of agricultural food systems is imperative for the needed transformation, which should stem right from the hallowed halls of the universities and colleges."

This is the analysis of Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, Director, and Dr. Rico C. Ancog, Operations Consultant for Emerging Innovation for Growth, both of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), in a SEARCA policy brief titled "Reshaping Agricultural Research and Development in Higher Education Institutions in a Time of Pandemic in Southeast Asia."

Reshaping Agricultural Research and Development in Higher Education Institutions in a Time of Pandemic in Southeast AsiaThey see that higher education institutions (HEIs) can further reorient their research and development from a business perspective toward systemic change of the agriculture sector.

In order to maximize human capital in the academe for the needed agricultural food system transformation, Dr. Gregorio and Dr. Ancog pointed out the need to prioritize providing the enabling environment for faculty members and researchers to engage in mutual learning and co-learning through the establishment of multi- and interdisciplinary research laboratories, centers, and institutes.

SEARCA promotes the active engagement of universities and colleges in Academe-Industry-Government (AIG) interconnectivity models on research collaboration and co-sharing of financial resources, to shorten the gap between research and knowledge utilization, the authors said.

"This includes contextualizing research projects within larger value chains," they stressed.

In the policy brief, Dr. Gregorio and Dr. Ancog explained that under the AIG interconnectivity model, universities and colleges can design and implement digital agriculture infrastructure and open innovation systems across the agricultural supply chains.

The authors said HEIs can also conduct collaborative knowledge generation through joint publications, patenting, technology transfer systems, and business incubation. Moreover, HEIs can encourage and support innovation throughout the research process from conceptualization, implementation and data generation, analysis, and synthesis aimed to contribute public value.

Dr. Gregorio and Dr. Ancog thus recommend prioritizing the retooling of faculty members and researchers across the full spectrum of intellectual property rights, including technology transfer system, technology-based incubation, and entrepreneurship.

They also see the need to incentivize scientific productivity that values accomplishments beyond publications—for example, people, partnerships, patents, product, and profit.

Providing more faculty and research grants and extension awards that enable faculty and students to engage with industry, private companies, community beneficiaries, and other stakeholders across the agricultural supply chain should also be a priority, the SEARCA experts said.

They also recommend rearticulating projects started prior to the pandemic along a country's COVID-19 responses and crafting creative research proposals related to COVID-19.

"For agriculture to secure food for the world's growing population even prior to the pandemic, it already needs to produce more with less—more in terms of yield, income, and social inclusivity; and less in terms of unnecessary inputs, energy consumption, and environmental impacts," Dr. Gregorio and Dr. Ancog concluded.