10 March 2023 ─ The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEAMEO SEARCA
) was invited to SEAMEO STEM-ED’s STEM Fair and Expo 2023 ─ where the centre’s representative, Engr. Christopher Cabardo discussed insights on how they inspire the youth in agriculture through their initiatives.
Sharing the same surname as STEM-ED’s, SEAMEO SEARCA is a nonprofit organization established in 1966 with a mission to elevate the quality of life of agricultural families through sustainable and resilient livelihoods and access to modern networks and innovative markets.
Engr. Cabardo who is a Program Specialist in SEARCA’s Emerging Innovation for Growth Department (EIGD) pointed out what SEARCA undertook to innovate the agriculture industry and elicit the young generation’s involvement in national sustainability.
Engr. Cabardo (who joined virtually) first pointed out that the case of “School-Plus-Home Gardens Program (S+HGP)” which surpassed their initial expectation of improving school children’s nutrition, education, and economic well-being.
With this participatory program, S+HGP was piloted in 6 schools (elementary and high schools) by introducing students to smart agriculture such as container gardening, hydroponics and aquaponics, and vertical gardening.
As a result, students were more engaged in smart agriculture (nurturing plants from seeds to vegetables), and over time ─ they are more enthusiastic about consuming their own vegetables. In this case, participating students’ height, weight, and body mass index (BMI) were significantly improved ─ as they participated in the program. The program is later adopted by 90 schools in the Philippines.
Shifting to a more digitally-based program, Engr. Cabardo highlighted SEARCA’s “Digital Agriculture Platform” where the centre was tasked with modernizing traditional farming ─ and improving the livelihood of smallholder farmers ─ through digital agriculture.
The platform serves as a marketplace for vegetables and fruits, connecting farmers to end customers with a data-driven operation. Farmers who participated in this initiative are conveniently able to transport their products to the distribution center.
In this matter, Engr. Cabardo said the majority of farmers in the Philippines are elders and their kin were willingly involved in the packaging process ─ and the success is demonstrated through the connection in families.
Another important event SEARCA initiated was “Innovation Olympics 2.0.” It was a national competition for the Philippines’ next-generation university students in ‘agri-startups.’ The competition challenged students to develop innovative solutions to help transform the food and agriculture sector under the topic of “Precision agriculture for small-scale vegetable farming.”
A total of thirty participating teams demonstrated capabilities of producing innovations and technologies in subjects of the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and precision agriculture ─ in which finalists are granted a reward for their capacity.
As the event concluded, STEM-ED and SEARCA vowed to continue the work in pioneering Southeast Asia’s education and human livelihood through future innovative programs.
STEM Fair and Expo 2023 was a collaborative event among the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Regional Centre for STEM Education (SEAMEO STEM-ED), Chevron Thailand Exploration and Production, Ltd., and the Ministry of Education (MOE) ─ to enhance Southeast Asia’s youth capabilities and boost regional competitiveness.