NOTE: “Leadership Reflections” shares views of the different members of the University Leadership Council on matters related to campus life and the operations of the University. As well, it features opinions on issues of national and/or international relevance.
Quest for Greater Relevance
By Dr. Jose Edwin C. Cubelo, Dean, College of Agriculture
Change is manifested in practically all aspects of the Philippine society.
Population-wise, the country is now ranked 14th in the world, and is projected to increase to about 130 million in 2025. On the other hand, agricultural production efficiency for the country’s staple crops appears to have not steadily kept pace with the rising demand due to, among others, the degradation in the quality of the natural resource base of agriculture, and conversion of what were once prime agricultural areas to non-agricultural uses. The latter is evident in the steady decline of arable land per capita in the country.
Clearly, the country’s population is expanding at a tremendous pace and exerting severe pressure on the environment. The rate at which the country’s natural resources is being consumed is alarming, which all the more pushes to the limit the already strained capacities and quality of the natural agricultural resource base. Indeed, the dynamics of the relationships between a burgeoning population, limited resources, and environment brings to the fore the critical implications of these changes on the quality of life of the human populace.
Historically recognized as one of the instruments for addressing societal problems, there is an expectation for tertiary educational institutions to provide the necessary leadership and knowledge required for the effective resolution of issues and problems that threaten the very survival of human communities. The concern for the long-term sustainability of the natural resource base for agriculture is one such major societal concern today. Clearly, the articulation and embedding of the concern for sustainable development in higher agriculture education programs is one of the forces challenging institutions for tertiary agriculture education.
To a large extent, tertiary agriculture education curricular programs have been instrumental in the promotion and advancement of modern scientific farming, also referred to as “conventional agriculture practices”. This system of farming has been characterized as “capital intensive”, “large-scale”, “highly mechanized agriculture with monoculture of crops” and “extensive use of artificial fertilizers”, herbicides, and pesticides, with intensive animal husbandry.” While these practices may have brought about increased levels of agricultural productivity in some sectors, it is ironic and unfortunate that it is to these modern practices to which concerns about the deterioration in the quality and long-term sustaining capacities of the natural resource base for agriculture are also attributed.
Reportedly, these so-called “modern” agricultural practices have resulted in soil fertility reduction; contamination of water, soil, and agricultural products ; ground water depletion, loss of bio-diversity and genetic diversity; health problems; massive tampering with the ecosystem through the destruction of beneficial organism;, and increased vulnerability and dependence of farmers and communities on external forces. All these endanger agricultural sustainability.
Indeed, these are issues in the wider environment of the agriculture sector which institutions for higher education in agriculture are expected to keep attuned to and to respond to through changes in curricular focus and emphasis, so as to stay socially relevant. It is now faced with the challenge of exploring and advocating for alternative systems for agriculture resource management that are “economically viable”, “ecologically-sound”, and “socially and culturally acceptable”.