From time immemorial, agriculture has been placed in the centerpiece of national development programs of developing countries in Southeast Asia. What with its vast and richly endowed agricultural land, the region could easily be the food granary capital of the world.
But this is not so. Rapid population growth, food insecurity, and widespread poverty are just some of the compelling issues that continue to hound the region and significantly impede efforts to trudge the path towards genuine development.
Set against this grim backdrop, the region needs to take urgent and concerted effort in wrestling with these issues. One realization became evident. The region is in dire need to produce highly trained agricultural manpower to provide leadership in national agricultural development programs and to generate a reservoir of new knowledge and technologies derived from research.
And so it came to pass that SEARCA, as a concept, was not hard to accept and to pursue. It was just like a seed waiting to be sown and nurtured on the fertile grounds of the Southeast Asian region.
The education ministers of Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam, together with a representative from the United States Government, met to explore possible venues for regional cooperation in education, science, and culture.
The historic meeting paved the way to the formation of an interim Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Secretariat (SEAMES) for the purpose of drawing up a “Discussion Paper” which detailed suggested priority projects for the region. The favorable responses and comments on the paper enabled SEAMES to prepare skeletal draft proposals for regional cooperation in education, of which the idea of instituting a Center for graduate study and research in agriculture was third in the list.
Having established an impressive reputation in the field of agricultural education, the then University of the Philippines College of Agriculture (UPCA) was seriously considered to be the ideal site. Dr. Dioscorro L. Umali, then Dean of UPCA, wasted no time as he immediately called a select few of his colleagues to draft a position paper which advocated utilizing the resources of existing institutions for the project, instead of starting a new institution from scratch.
The Philippine delegation submitted the position paper to the SEAMES Technical Workshop held in Kuala, Lumpur, Malaysia. A Task Force was then formed to thoroughly evaluate the advisability of establishing an institute for graduate study and research in agriculture and the probable institution that could be home to such. In addition, the Task Force was tasked to recommend a framework for the operation of the proposed institute.
End result, the Task Force recommended UPCA to be the womb that gave birth to this institute of higher learning in agriculture.
The Second Conference of the SEAMES held in Manila and Quezon City witnessed how the Philippine delegation stood steadfast in reworking on the report to propose and develop a plan for the merging of the proposed institute to the UPCA system.
With encouraging words from the then Education Secretary Carlos P. Romulo, Drs. G. F. Saguiguit, D.L. Umali, and Mr. Onofre D. Corpuz reworked the proposal. Their efforts paid off as the proposal was finally approved on November 30, 1966 and the institute was officially named the “Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture” (SEARCA).