LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, Philippines – The Philippines considerably benefited from 279 research and development programs and projects undertaken by a Southeast Asian center based here over the past five decades.
The researches were done by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), whose mandate is to provide capacity-building interventions in agriculture and rural development (ARD) in Southeast Asia through its scholarship, research and knowledge management programs.
The center's accomplishments were presented in a series of activities organized by SEARCA in the last quarter of 2016 to cap the commemoration of its 50th anniversary.
SEARCA is hosted by the Philippine government, through the Department of Education (DepEd), in the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB). It is one of 21 regional centers of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO), an inter-government treaty body founded in 1965 to promote cooperation in science, education and culture among Southeast Asian countries.
SEAMEO now has all the 11 Southeast Asian countries as members: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Timor-Leste and Vietnam. Associate members are Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, Spain, the Netherlands and United Kingdom.
Many of SEARCA's projects in the Philippines were conducted in cooperation with various government institutions, international aid and donor organizations, universities and the private sector.
Altogether, SEARCA has implemented at least 249 projects in the Philippines. Moreover, it supported 30 promising but fund-limited Southeast Asian researchers and scientists (among them Filipinos) to enable them to carry out initiatives on ARD through its Seed Fund for Research and Training grant. SFRT is a competitive grant that provides assistance (maximum of $15,000) to selected researchers.
The SEARCA R&D projects encompassed such areas as agribusiness, agrarian reform, agricultural credit, agricultural information, agroforestry, farming systems, aquaculture, biodiversity, biotechnology, fisheries, food and nutrition security, women in agriculture, land administration, livestock and postharvest R&D, research and extension management, rural employment, agroforestry and water resource management.
In recent years, SEARCA also focused on environmental concerns such as climate change, environmental and economic impact assessment, and coastal and water resource management.
The SFRT similarly addressed various issues, among them Effects of Changing Climate on Major Crops in the Philippines, Agro-ecosystems Analysis of Lake Buhi, Biophysical Characteristics of Leyte Landscape in Relation to Landslide Occurrences, Mangrove Rehabilitation in Masbate, and Vulnerability of the Cagayan River Basin.
Among the main government agencies that have commissioned and collaborated with SEARCA in these R&D projects are the Department of Agriculture (DA) and its Bureau of Agricultural Research, Philippine Rice Research Institute, Philippine Carabao Center, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Philippine Crop Insurance Corp. and Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization.
SEARCA has also established working relationships with the Departments of Science and Technology (DOST) and Agrarian Reform (DAR) as well as the National Economic and Development Authority, Commission on Climate Change, Commission on Higher Education, Laguna Lake Development Authority, and Philippine Institute for Development Studies.
The center likewise has been collaborating with UP Diliman, UP Visayas, UP Open University, Misamis Oriental State College of Agriculture and Technology, and Mariano Marcos State University.
Currently, SEARCA and Philippine government institutions are jointly implementing 11 R&D projects.
In addition, its strategic role and position and excellent track record in managing R&D projects has made it possible to forge partnerships with multilateral and bilateral agencies and international organizations which resulted in projects that benefited Filipinos and Philippine institutions.
"SEARCA, therefore, becomes a window of various international aid and donor organizations that wanted to maximize their assistance to Southeast Asia, particularly in the Philippines," Saguiguit said.
Some of the 45 foreign institutions that have collaborated with SEARCA in its research work in the Philippines are agencies of the SEAMEO associate members, international R&D organizations, Asian and Southeast Asian institutions, European Union, World Bank and prestigious universities around the globe.
In human resource development, SEARCA's scholarship program has to date produced about 1,400 doctoral and master's degree holders since it was launched in 1968 to produce highly educated nationals of Southeast Asian countries to help accelerate their countries' development process.
Many of them, Saguiguit said, have become ministers, deputy ministers, members of parliament and cabinet, rectors and vice rectors of universities and other prestigious positions in their respective chosen careers.
"SEARCA has grown through the unstinting support of the Philippines and strong national and international partners and donors who have fueled the center's many development programs benefiting its target clientele and stakeholders in Southeast Asia," he said.