Six Philippine universities recently participated in a two-week summer school focused on the critical importance of sustainable agricultural solutions in adverse conditions conducted by the Southeast Asian University Consortium for Graduate Education in Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC) in Thailand.
Hosted by Kasetsart University (KU) at its Chalermphrakiat Sakon Nakhon Province Campus in July-August 2023, the summer school had 51 delegates from various universities, including 12 members of the UC.
SEARCA Director Dr. Glenn Gregorio said the UC was established by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) in 1989 to promote collaboration among consortium members to enhance graduate education and research in agriculture, environment, and natural resources for the benefit of the Southeast Asian region. Today, the UC links strong universities in Southeast Asia, Canada, Germany, Japan, and Taiwan, enabling them to share resources and collaborate on research as well as faculty and student mobilities.
The Philippine universities represented in the summer school were the Cagayan State University, Capiz State University, Central Luzon State University, Central Mindanao University, University of the Philippines Los Baños, and Visayas State University.
The other participating universities were IPB University, Universitas Gadjah Mada, and Universitas Brawijaya in Indonesia; Universiti Putra Malaysia; KU and Maejo University in Thailand; Tokyo NODAI in Japan; and National Taiwan University.
According to Gregorio, the overarching theme of this year's summer school prompted a comprehensive discussion on the economic, social, and environmental challenges that arise when extending agricultural production into unfavorable conditions.
"These difficulties are prevalent in regions with diminished soil fertility, unpredictable rainfalls, and restricted irrigation access, magnified by the influence of climate change," Gregorio said.
He further noted that the changing landscape of social demographics and migration patterns has resulted in a diminishing pool of off-farm labor for small-scale agriculture, which could compel a return to broader farming approaches, endangering the overall sustainability of the sector.
Participants engaged in practical fieldwork, interactive lectures, assessments of smallholders, and on-farm surveys throughout the program, gaining a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by farmers. This hands-on approach empowered participants to develop informed strategies and propose viable solutions.
"The UC Summer School is organized annually to enrich the understanding of students and professionals engaged in rural studies, agriculture, and natural resource management," Gregorio said.
He added that the program centers on the sustainable use of land and water resources in Southeast Asian agriculture.
"Beyond imparting interdisciplinary knowledge and expert guidance, it affords participants a unique multicultural experience, exposing them to different countries and viewpoints," Gregorio stressed.
He also shared that as the UC secretariat, SEARCA provided full support to the summer school, which was also in collaboration with the TALENT Programme on Sustainable Land Management of the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD).