The Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) has re-formed its technical panel for agriculture (TPA) as part of a trend to make agriculture a preeminent policy tool in poverty reduction and economic growth. “The reconstitution of technical panels is anchored on the need to align higher education to standards, priorities and needs in international, regional and national settings. Experts from [the] academe, government and industry will assist the commission in policy formulation,” CHEd Chairman Prospero de Vera 3rd said in a statement on Tuesday. CHEd has appointed Glenn Gregorio, director of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca), to head the TPA. Other members of the panel are Candida Adalla and Domingo Angeles, former deans of the University of the Philippines Los Baños’ College of Agriculture; Danilo Abayon from Aklan State University; and Nikole Ma. Nimfa Alicer, farmer and founder of Kalipayan Farms. Gregorio emphasized the strategic position of higher educational institutions (HEIs) in pursuing initiatives on food and nutrition security, as agriculture remains a major engine of economic development in most Southeast Asian countries. Development economists have long proposed reforms in the country’s agricultural education as rural poverty and wealth-distribution inequalities prevailed. Interest among young people to take a career on agriculture has declined, adversely affecting innovation and technology development in the sector. “Agricultural modernization is essential in the Philippines’ strategy for inclusive growth. The mandate of many public-sector HEIs is to create a pool of skilled workers to increase the competitiveness of our agriculture and fisheries sector,” Philippine Institute of Development Studies (PIDS) President Gilberto Llanto said. The PIDS chief said the decline in skilled workers came from a decrease in enrolment in agriculture, forestry and natural resources courses, making the Philippines’ future prospects in agriculture questionable. De Vera’s statement comes more than a decade after economists proposed to then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo a program with three major components in reforming agricultural education: policy research, institutional capacity enhancement for entrepreneurship, and support for agri-enterprise building in state universities and colleges (SUCs). “This program came about…when pressing issues on spiraling food prices, food security, climate change and environmental degradation brought agriculture to the limelight. These have prompted calls to rethink development efforts in agriculture,” Llanto explained. “The support [for] this program recognizes that universities have a crucial role to play. Apart from being the knowledge and resource base in their localities, the SUCs should be able to churn out graduates as champions in fueling development and sustainability in the countryside,” he added. The proposal was supported by experts from PIDS and the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (Pcaarrd) under the Department of Science and Technology. “Now is the most opportune time to implement the long-overdue rationalization of SUCs to allow them to offer agri-oriented technical vocational education and training programs, focusing on agribusiness-oriented agriculture,” Pcaarrd Director Patricio Faylon said in a report titled “Higher Education in Agriculture, Trends, Prospects and Policy Directions.” The country’s agility in designing curricular and extension programs (technology transfer from of scientists to farmers) to produce professionals who can engage in achieving food and nutrition security goals is critical, according to Gregorio. He said the diversification of the agriculture sector and AFNR-related programs would significantly address the changing needs of the local and global economic environment in employment and better income. In all, reforming the agriculture curriculum in the country’s HEIs is critical in making labor competencies more relevant to future job markets.