UC Summer School empowers sustainable agricultural solutions in difficult environments

THE Southeast Asian University Consortium for Graduate Education in Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC) conducted its annual UC Summer School in Thailand empowering sustainable agricultural solutions in difficult environments.

The Summer School which took place from July 24 to 4 August 4, 2023 at Kasetsart University (KU) Chalermphrakiat Sakon Nakhon Province Campus marked the seventh installment of the learning event which brought together 28 delegates from UC member universities.

These universities include IPB University, Universitas Gadjah Mada, and Universitas Brawijaya from Indonesia; Universiti Putra Malaysia; Kasetsart University and Maejo University from Thailand; Tokyo NODAI from Japan; National Taiwan University; University of the Philippines Los Baños, Visayas State University, Central Luzon State University and Central Mindanao University from the Philippines.

There were also four delegates from Cagayan State University and Capiz State University, both members of the State Universities and Colleges-Association of Colleges of Agriculture in the Philippines (SUC-ACAP) who participated in the event.

KU's network also contributed 23 delegates, including representatives from KU Sakon Nakhon Campus, Prince of Songkla University, University of North Sumatra, and Bonsucro, the global sustainability platform for sugarcane.

In this learning event, KU collaborated with the Talent Program on Sustainable Land Management of the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (Cirad). Now on its two-year partnership with Cirad, this year's program was preceded by Universitas Brawijaya in Malang, Indonesia, as the host institution.

Anchored on the "Sustainability of Agricultural Systems in Difficult Environments," the Summer School offered a comprehensive discussion on the economic, social and environmental challenges to sustainability when agricultural productions are extended in unfavorable conditions.

Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) director Dr. Glenn Gregorio explained that these conditions encompass regions characterized by suboptimal soil fertility, erratic rainfall patterns, and limited access to irrigation, which are exacerbated by the effects of climate change.

He added that the evolving dynamics of social demographics and migration patterns also contribute to a decline in off-farm labor availability for small-scale farming, potentially pushing a return to more extensive farming practices and threatening the overall sustainability of these systems.

Gregorio said the Summer School is an annual event of the UC designed to enhance the understanding of students and other professionals in rural studies, agriculture and natural resource management on the sustainable use of land and water resources in agricultural production in Southeast Asia.

"The program not only equips participants with interdisciplinary insights and expert teachings but also offers a unique multicultural experience and a glimpse into different countries and perspectives," Gregorio said.

Throughout the program, SEARCA said the 51 participants engaged in practical fieldwork, interactive lectures, participatory assessments of smallholders, and on-farm surveys. And to enrich their experience, participants also had the opportunity to tour the KU Institute of Food Research and Development, as well as the KU Milk Center.

These hands-on activities provided a deepened understanding of the challenges faced by farmers, enabling participants to develop informed strategies and propose viable solutions to the challenges, it added.

The closing ceremony and certificate conferment was held on Aug. 4, 2023 in Bangkok, Thailand. Gregorio, together with Dr. Alain Rival, regional director for Cirad's Southeast Asian Island Countries, extended their congratulations to the participants who completed the intensive two-week course.

KU President Dr. Chongrak Wachrinrat graced the event and formally closed the Summer School.