Universities as engines for agri transformation

WITH the COVID-19 pandemic bringing innovative ways of inviting people into the learning environment, universities have become engines of social inclusion that can transform agriculture, a reputable Filipino scientist and academician said.

Dr. Glenn Gregorio, director of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), was a plenary speaker at the International Society for Southeast Asian Agricultural Sciences (ISSAAS) International Scientific Congress and General Meeting 2023, accentuating universities' roles and potentials in transforming agricultural education.

Anchored on the theme, "Integrated Management of Southeast Asian Agricultural Landscapes," the congress focused on food security, soil and water conservation, climate resilience, and market systems and initiatives.

The ISSAAS-Philippine Chapter hosted this year's congress and general meeting from Nov. 8 to 10, 2023, at the Acacia Hotel Manila, Alabang, Muntinlupa City.

Gregorio's presentation titled "Transforming Agricultural Education in the Era of the 4th Industrial Revolution" emphasized the significance of capacitating the education sector's human capital: the faculty and students.

He said universities have expanded their role outside of research, instruction and extension in response to the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic and other global concerns, such that "their contribution to society is measured by not just their impact on research but also their capacity to bridge social and cultural interaction between them and the community they aim to serve."

Gregorio, a National Academy of Science and Technology academician, said universities have become key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs.

"Basic research and policy support is needed for new and relevant crop varieties and livestock breeds development; agricultural systems technologies, such as water management, pests and diseases management, and weather and climate forecasting; postharvest management; nutrition and food safety maintenance; and diversified farming," he said.

While calling for more government budget allocation and private initiatives on agriculture, Gregorio has recommended more studies and initiatives on improving financial technology design for farmers and mainstreaming financial systems like loans, credit systems and agricultural insurance facilities.

Meanwhile, Dr. Nur Azura Adam, SEARCA deputy director for programs and ISSAAS-Malaysia Chapter vice president, delivered the Malaysia country report during the general membership meeting.

Through its Partnerships Unit, SEARCA hosted an institutional exhibit at the conference showcasing its publications on food security, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and agricultural market dynamics, the Asian Journal of Agriculture and Development or AJAD, and information materials on its programs and services.