Universities and colleges can spark agri food systems transformation


“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the connections between supply chains and our consumption patterns, and the urgent need to redefine agricultural systems as food systems. A systemic view of agricultural food systems is imperative for the needed transformation, which should stem right from the hallowed halls of the universities and colleges.”

This was the analysis of Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio and Dr. Rico C. Ancog of Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), a regional think tank hosted by the Philippine government. Headed by Dr. Gregorio, SEARCA is committed to elevating the quality of life of agricultural families through sustainable livelihoods and access to modern networks and innovative markets. Dr. Ancog leads SEARCA’s Emerging Innovation for Growth program.

They see that Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) can further reorient their research and development from a business perspective toward systemic change of the agriculture sector.

SEARCA promotes the active engagement of universities and colleges in Academe-Industry-Government (AIG) interconnectivity models on research collaboration and co-sharing of financial resources, to shorten the gap between research and knowledge utilization, the authors said.

“This includes contextualizing research projects within larger value chains,” they stressed.

In a policy paper, Dr. Gregorio and Dr. Ancog explained that under the AIG interconnectivity model, universities and colleges can design and implement digital agriculture infrastructure and open innovation systems across the agricultural supply chains.

They added that HEIs can also conduct collaborative knowledge generation through joint publications, patenting, technology transfer systems, and business incubation.

Moreover, they said HEIs can encourage and support innovation throughout the research process from conceptualization, implementation and data generation, analysis, and synthesis aimed to contribute public value.

The SEARCA experts noted that for agriculture to secure food for the world’s growing population even prior to the pandemic, it already needs to produce more with less—more in terms of yield, income, and social inclusivity; and less in terms of unnecessary inputs, energy consumption, and environmental impacts.

They pointed out that “on the supply side, drastic change in both individual and collective behavior is needed toward responsible consumption.”

Dr. Gregorio reiterated the importance of the demand and the supply chain in R&D in an online forum on scientific excellence and relevance convened by the Philippine-American Academy of Science and Engineering (PAASE) last August 10.

“On the demand side, we should ask what people would really need from R&D. On the supply side, we should ask what we should expect to be generated from R&D,” he said.

Dr. Gregorio echoed the major priorities recommended by the SEARCA policy paper in order to maximize human capital in the academe for the needed agricultural food system transformation, as follows: (1) provide the enabling environment for faculty members and researchers to engage in mutual learning and co-learning through the establishment of multi- and interdisciplinary research laboratories, centers, and institutes; (2) incentivize scientific productivity that values accomplishments beyond publications (e.g., people, partnerships, patents, product, and profit); (3) retool faculty members and researchers across the full spectrum of intellectual property rights, including technology transfer system, technology-based incubation, and entrepreneurship; (4) provide more faculty and research grants and extension awards that enable faculty and students to engage with industry, private companies, community beneficiaries, and other stakeholders across the agricultural supply chain; (5) rearticulate projects started prior to the pandemic along a country’s COVID-19 responses; and (6) craft creative research proposals related to COVID-19.

“HEIs are key players in society’s overall ability to achieve the aspired food security and economic development. But they can aspire to contribute beyond—toward an economic development that is sustainable, inclusive, environment-friendly, and most importantly, resilient to current and future pandemics and other unanticipated disruptions,” Dr. Gregorio concluded.

(###Press Release)



Since its establishment in 1966, SEARCA’s main mandate has been to build capacities in agricultural and rural development in Southeast Asia. From 2020 to 2025, SEARCA’s programs are geared towards accelerating transformation through agricultural innovation (ATTAIN) to elevate the quality of life of agricultural families through sustainable livelihoods and access to modern networks and innovative markets. Its five-year development strategy is articulated through its core programs on Education and Collective Learning (ECL) via Graduate Scholarship and Institutional Development and Training for Development, Research and Thought Leadership (RTL), and Emerging Innovation for Growth (EIG). Carried out in collaboration with key partners and stakeholders, these efforts are intended to contribute to the achievement of selected United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SEARCA serves the 11 Southeast Asian countries, namely: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam. It is hosted by the Philippine government and is headquartered on the campus of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).