SEARCA, in partnership with the Regional SEARCA Alumni Association (RSAA), organized the Scholars' Conference 2023 on "Advancing Agricultural Research for Improved Food Security." Twenty-eight scholars presented their research across six parallel sessions from March 14-15, 2023, via the SOLVE Platform. The two-day conference is the Center’s way to support their academic achievements and recognize their capacity to produce quality research that has a great impact on agriculture and rural development.
Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, SEARCA Director, and Prof. Dr. Ir. Asdi Agustar of Andalas University, Indonesia, and RSAA President, gave the opening messages. Dr. Gregorio welcomed all the attendees and recognized the necessity of organizing safe learning spaces such as the conference to share, learn, and engage with one another and to learn the best practices and possible solutions to the evolving challenges the region continuously faces. He urged the scholars to take down notes as this will guide them in honing their research skills. Dr. Asdi, on behalf of RSAA, thanked all the alumni guests who attended the conference to show their support for the research endeavors of the ongoing scholars. He also highlighted that the event is one among the many efforts that make RSAA's vision and mission come true.
Prof. Dr. Ir. Musliar Kasim, Rector of Baiturrahman University, Indonesia, and Outstanding SEARCA Scholarship Alumni Awardee, discussed the status of the global food production system and the challenges it faces, such as climate change, the energy crisis, loss of agricultural land, and environmental degradation. He highlighted that urgent actions are needed to ensure food security. He encouraged the scholars to work towards significantly contributing to the region's development according to their areas of expertise. Dr. Musliar shared three competencies, namely, knowledge, skills, and attitude, that are vital to reduce the gap between the graduate students' quality and the quality needed by the region. Knowledge needs to be improved and transformed into skills. Maintaining a positive attitude will lead to other important traits such as honesty, responsibility, discipline, and persistence. Dr. Musliar also shared his experience and underscored that the academic journey takes a lot of hard work and sacrifices. He encouraged scholars to look at the stages of their life as a learning process, and unless they try to do something beyond what they have already mastered, they will never grow.
Besides Dr. Asdi and Dr. Musliar, SEARCA also invited other alumni experts to serve as parallel guest speakers, moderators, and critics to help the scholars develop their research. Dr. Maria Genaleen Diaz, Professor at the Institute of Biological Sciences, University of the Philippines Los Baños, handled Parallel Session 1 on Plant Sciences. Dr. Queenie Ann L. Curayag, Professor and Director of the Food Research and Development Center, Central Mindanao University in the Philippines, and Dr. Chim Chay, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Agro-Industry at the Royal University of Agriculture in Cambodia, handled Parallel Session 2 on Food Sciences. Dr. Izzati Adilah Binti Azmir, a Senior Lecturer at the University Technology MARA, Malaysia, handled Aquatic Sciences and Dr. Ir. Bambang Suwignyo, Lecturer at Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia, provided his expertise on Animal Sciences, both under Parallel Session 3.
For the second day of the conference, Dr. Nguyen Thi Duong Nga, Associate Professor at the Vietnam National University of Agriculture, handled Parallel Session 4 on Agricultural Economics. Dr. Nathaniel R. Alibuyog, Professor VI and Vice President for Research and Extension at the Mariano Marcos State University in the Philippines, was the resource person for Parallel Session 5 on Agricultural Resilience. Mr. Bounmy Phommakone, National Coordinator, GEF Small Grants Program for Lao PDR, United Nations Development Programme, mentored Parallel Session 6 presenters on their research proposals.
During the closing program, Dr. Weerapon Thongma, the President of Maejo University and RSAA Vice President, provided an acronym for the scholars to remember. L.O.V.E. W.I.N.S. stands for L – Leadership, something that scholars should cultivate. O means opportunity, which refers to the scholarship received from SEARCA and the support from the home institution of the scholars. V stands for value addition, which is something scholars should incorporate as part of their research outputs. E refers to ethics and is a trait that is very important in academia and research. W stands for wisdom, while I refers to Innovation, or the responsibility of the scholars to add to the body of knowledge of their respective fields. N pertains to network and is built by scholars from different countries, institutions, and cultures. Finally, S stands for service. Dr. Weerapon reminded the scholars to serve society using what they have learned. He reiterated that if the scholars L.O.V.E., they will W.I.N. Dr. Nur Azura binti Adam, SEARCA Deputy Director for Programs, congratulated the scholars for successfully presenting their research and looks forward to seeing them graduate and join the ranks of SEARCA's alumni.
SEARCA has previously organized conferences for its scholars, specifically under the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada – SEARCA joint scholarship. The Center, through its Education and Collective Learning Department (ECLD), revived the conduct of the learning event based on the needs of the current scholars, and plans to continue this annually.