"We have to make agriculture not only sexy, but [with] lots of fun, exciting and [with] so much to discover. After all, agriculture is life…. We have to inculcate the love for agriculture, the love for life at the basic level. It would be too late if we try to convert them at the tertiary level."
Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis Briones made this statement in her keynote address during the investiture of Dr. Glenn Gregorio as the 11th director of Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) at the center's headquarters in University of the Philippines Los Baños in Laguna last week.
Briones affirmed her support for the focus of SEARCA's 11th Five-Year Plan on strengthening the academe-industry-government interconnectivity, agricultural innovations, and market-driven agribusiness development in the Philippines and the rest of the Southeast Asia.
She said this is necessary "in order to modernize the agricultural sector, encourage the participation of smallholder farmers, and partner with development aid organizations—and, for us in the Department of Education, to promote agriculture to the youth by integrating it in basic education programs."
Gregorio, in his speech, gave a glimpse of SEARCA's 11th Five-Year Plan. "The key to securing the future of SEARCA is inclusive innovation and interconnectivity, that is—academe-industry-government interconnectivity toward an innovation-centered, partnership-driven, and infrastructure-based toward Agriculture 4.0 and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)."
The context of agriculture requires that SEARCA evolve and innovate in order for it to remain relevant, he noted.
He said the current context of agriculture, rural development and state of farmers, as aligned with the global goals, "mainly focus on the contribution of agriculture to hunger and malnutrition eradication, and on improving the standard of living of all" in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable manner.
Gregorio explained: "To remain relevant, SEARCA commits to participate in the achievement of the global priorities identified by global development and financial institutions to cover the biggest issues the world is facing and will be facing in the coming years. Aligning with the SDGs, SEARCA will contribute to transforming the current farmers who are stuck in the belief that farming is limited to production, into new farmers operating in a modern agriculture ecology—Agriculture 4.0."
Gregorio added the center will align its direction toward contributing to the achievement of the SDGs that address global challenges to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.
It commits to contribute and allocate resources for the achievement of five SDGs (SDG 2, Zero Hunger; SDG 4, Quality Education; SDG 9, Industry Innovation and Infrastructure; SDG 13, Climate Action; and SDG 17, Partnerships).
He said these directly align with SEARCA's mandate and focus with emphasis on creating partnerships (SDG 17).
At the same time, in doing so, SEARCA tangentially contributes to three other SDGs (SDG 1, No Poverty, SDG 5, Gender Equality, and SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production).
He said, the "new normal" conditions in the Southeast Asia region compels SEARCA and all of its key partners to initiate a paradigm shift to increase its visibility and coverage, and deliver greater impact on the lives of the primary stakeholders—the farmers and farming families, including the youth.
Gregorio explained that the international agency will develop platforms that can deliver its strategic outcomes which are significantly "better, bigger and smarter."
Better for more context-relevant and valuable services; bigger for engaging more stakeholders; and smarter by using more effective and efficient ways, to ensure the achievement of the SDGs through changes in the economic and social structures, and the adoption of more sustainable consumption and production behaviors.
He said this commitment follows transformational change from traditional "band-aid" activities to new innovative practices.
Hosted by the Philippine government on the University of the Philippines Los Baños campus, SEARCA is one of the oldest specialist institutions of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO).
It was founded in 1966 to serve the agricultural and rural development needs of Southeast Asian countries through graduate education and training, research and knowledge dissemination.
Dr. Ethel Agnes Pascua-Valenzuela, SEAMEO director and a member of SEARCA governing board, expressed confidence in Gregorio's leadership and urged SEARCA's allies to continue to support the center under his watch.
Dr. Fernando C. Sanchez Jr., UPLB Chancellor and country representative of the Philippines to the SEARCA governing board, said that "as one of the study post of SEARCA's scholars from across Southeast Asia, [UPLB has] seen the unprecedented success and accomplishments of the Center through its more than 1,800 graduate scholarship alumni spread across the region, many of whom have gone on to occupy or have occupied high positions of responsibility in government, academe, and other important international and national institutions."
He said, in fact, some have risen to become ministers, deputy ministers, members of parliament and cabinet, rectors and presidents of universities, and other prestigious positions in their respective chosen careers.
Among the hundreds of guests who witnessed Gregorio's investiture were the Lao PDR Ambassador Songkane Luangmuninthone, Thai Ambassador Vasin Ruangprateepsaeng, and French Ambassador Nicolas Galey, and representatives of the Embassies of Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, and Vietnam in the Philippines. Other guests were national scientists, NAST Academicians, UPLB officials, the Los Baños scientific community, and the many partners of SEARCA from across and outside Southeast Asia in its work for agricultural and rural development.
Also in attendance were the Country Representatives of Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam to the SEARCA Governing Board; as well former SEARCA directors, SEARCA staff, scholars and other officials.