SEARCA, Winrock partner on regional agriculture innovation network

TO work on promoting agricultural innovation and climate-smart technologies, the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) inked ties with Winrock International Institute for Agricultural Development (Winrock) to collaborate on the Regional Agriculture Innovation Network (RAIN).

According to SEARCA Director Dr. Glenn Gregorio, the RAIN, which is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) was launched at Centara Grand Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand on June 21, 2023.

Also representing SEARCA at the launch were Sharon Malaiba, unit head for partnerships; Beatrisa Martinez, executive coordinator, Office of the Director; and Leah Lyn Domingo, public relations specialist.

The partnership between Winrock and SEARCA was formalized under a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Gregorio and Dr. William Sparks, Winrock's chief of party.

Gregorio said SEARCA is pleased to be forging a mutually strategic partnership with Winrock to work on promoting agricultural innovation and climate-smart technologies, particularly through the USDA RAIN project.

Winrock is dedicated to the upliftment of the underprivileged, the expansion of economic possibilities, and the preservation of global natural resources. It is renowned as a global leader in social, agricultural, and environmental development, both in the United States and internationally.

According to SEARCA, Gwendolyn Cardno, chargé d' affaires of the United States Embassy in Thailand, said, "Rain is a five-year project funded by the USDA and implemented by Winrock International to validate and scale climate-smart innovations (CSIs) across several agricultural value chains."

Cardno also shared that RAIN aims to improve productivity and markets through extension services and financial support and boost the competitive edge of Thai agriculture and broaden the possibilities for agricultural commerce by promoting sustainable agricultural production.

Sparks noted that by 2027, RAIN will have promoted 30 CSIs for adoption by 30,000 farmers, and thereby help reduce 76,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

"The project will focus on economic crops, such as rice, cassava, longan, durian, coconut and mangosteen," he said.

Gregorio affirmed that the MoU between SEARCA and Winrock will facilitate the collaboration in areas related to accelerating transformation through agricultural innovation or Attain, and scaling climate-smart technologies that increase productivity, reduce environmental impact and expand trade.

He said Winrock and SEARCA will conduct coordinated scanning for innovations, provide guidance to other universities and actors on scanning, co-host learning sessions, and define best practices for bundling finance, extension, equality and data into innovations.

Gregorio said SEARCA and Winrock will develop a network of youth outreach programs or makerspaces to excite youth about innovations and link youth to specific entrepreneurial opportunities.

Joint efforts to scale RAIN will include coordinating a grants program and conducting outreach to the private sector and other actors to contribute to the grant pool, selection process and technical support, he added.

In addition, Gregorio said that the two institutions would build on SEARCA's Agriculture 4.0 Livelihood Integration towards Farming Enterprises (Ag4Life) concept to define a community-level engagement activity that identifies and scales innovations.

Noting that the US government and its partners worldwide invest in new programs and innovations, Cardno said they recognize that sharing information on the successes, challenges and approaches can have broad global benefits.

For Sparks, he said it is not enough for them to scale these innovations, but how they can share their practices and results and their process with others in the region.

With this, Gregorio said Winrock and SEARCA agreed to define a common methodology for assessing impact, sharing results, and encouraging other actors to share data about the impact of innovations.

SEARCA and Winrock will work on defining a training model to help universities in other countries conduct technology adoption activities from scanning to scaling innovations.

Gregorio said they will also build on the Southeast Asia Platform to Attain Agri 4.0 Collaboration and Engagement or Space concept initiated by SEARCA to establish a knowledge management hub for showcasing innovations, evidence and partners.

"This aligns with the RAIN initiative in establishing an international climate hub that facilitates the adoption of CSIs to increase productivity, reduce environmental impact, and expand trade in Thailand and Southeast Asia," he added.

SEARCA and Winrock also agreed to explore potential carbon market solutions for encouraging technology adoption at the farm level.

Winrock also signed MoUs with Thailand's Digital Economy Promotion Agency (DEPA) and National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA); Harmless Harvest Co., Ltd.; and CPS Weather Co. Ltd. that will cooperate on RAIN.