LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, Philippines – The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), in partnership with the Sweden-based International Foundation for Science (IFS), commenced its Mentorship Program for Advanced Grants Mentoring Workshop on 15 June 2021. The activity ran until 21 June through the Microsoft Teams platform. The workshop aimed to improve the quality and effectiveness of research on agriculture and food systems by enhancing the capacity of early-career scientists.
Twenty-four young researchers from Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam, were selected to participate in the workshop. These researchers are grant applicants who passed the pre-screening and have been recommended for continued consideration for funding support.
The first and second day of the workshop focused on discussions intended to help the participants refine their proposals. The presentations included current issues in agriculture, food systems, and climate change as well as discussions on research concepts, approaches, designs, methods, and data analysis. The expectations and skills associated with advanced research were also discussed to prepare them for future engagement in the global mission to fight food insecurity, reduce poverty, and support sustainable development.
In his welcome remarks, SEARCA Deputy Director for Administration Prof. Joselito G. Florendo emphasized the potentials of research proposals to positively impact the agriculture and food systems in the region. The workshop is an integral component of the IFS-SEARCA Mentorship Program for Advanced Grants, which was launched in December 2020 and is focused on individual and collaborative research initiatives that hopes to contribute to solutions in times of crisis such as the global pandemic. He noted that the workshop embodies the capacity development feature of the Grants Program central to the mandates of both SEARCA and IFS.
Dr. Nighisty Ghezae, Director of IFS, also welcomed the participants. She discussed how “the pandemic has laid bare the weaknesses in the global food system, the risks of excessive agri-food value chain specialization and concentration, and the need for built-in redundancy as systemic insurance in the face of natural and manmade shocks that scientists expect will grow in frequency and severity in the years ahead.” To address growing problems such as the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, IFS and SEARCA are responding to the challenge by initiating the Call for Research on Accelerating Transformation through Agricultural Research. At the end of her remarks, Dr. Ghezae emphasized that early-career researchers have an “essential role as driving forces that push science forward with research.” Through the mentoring and support of IFS and SEARCA, young researchers can work successfully and bring about knowledge gain and meaningful change.
The workshop featured six distinguished resource persons and speakers who provided an overall context on the trends and challenges of the agri-food system, as well as lectures on different important research components deemed useful when drafting and revising proposals.
Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, SEARCA Director, presented the important role of agriculture in economies and societies. With the increasing number of challenges arising today such as climate change, he highlighted how agricultural systems must be able to adapt. He discussed how the current agriculture and food systems are important in sustaining the livelihoods of the poor population while also considering its effects on the environment. Dr. Gregorio emphasized the need to transform food systems to become more productive and sustainable, and at the same time, improving the livelihood of farmers and farming families.
Dr. Julian Gonsalves, Senior Adviser of the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), presented climate change adaptation and mitigation measures for resilient agri-food systems. He presented how climate change and the recent global pandemic intensified the vulnerabilities of communities worldwide. He challenged the participants to view this situation as an opportunity to develop better solutions, giving special consideration to marginalized groups. He emphasized the importance of empowering smallholder farmers in transforming the food system. The vulnerabilities of the smallholder farmers can be addressed through agro-ecological and regenerative approaches. These approaches will help the science community to attain sustainability.
A brief discussion about the Theory of Change (ToC) was given by Dr. Malcolm Beveridge, IFS Board Member. Dr. Beveridge described how ToC is used “to help elaborate and communicate how proposed actions will plausibly lead to desired changes.” He emphasized its importance in research as it determines how the activities will lead to outputs, which ultimately result to impacts. He encouraged the participants to develop the skill of articulating ToC, particularly for those whose research focus is on addressing societal issues.
Mr. John Young, Executive Director of INASP, discussed the use of research for policy and practice. He underscored the importance of development research and its impact. Further, he presented general approaches and specific tools in developing a Research-Into-Use Plan by maximizing its effectiveness to eventually becoming a “policy entrepreneur.”
Dr. Rico Ancog, Operations Consultant at SEARCA, presented important notes on the key principles and approaches in developing projects on agricultural food systems productivity and resilience. He also pointed out that solutions-making should be at the heart of research proposals.
Research design, methodology, and data analysis were the focus of Prof. Dr. Mohamed Thariq Hameed Sultan’s presentation. Dr. Thariq is a professor at the Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM). He discussed qualitative and quantitative research approaches, as well as the importance of the process of data collection, modelling, and analysis in conducting successful research.
The workshop presentations were capped off with interactive discussions among the participants. The discussions included their reflections from the presentations of the resource speakers and how these will affect the revisions they intend to do in their proposals.
The subsequent sessions of the Mentorship Workshop conducted on 18 and 21 June 2021 focused on presentations of the participants, featuring the lessons they have learned and how they plan to reflect these on their proposal revisions.