VIENTIANE, Lao PDR - The SEARCA graduate alumni have long recognized that climate change is a serious issue in the region as it affects smallholders and eventually food security. This was affirmed during the 1stRegional SEARCA Fellows Association (RSFA) Regional Conference on Food Security and Climate Change with the theme "Enhancing smallholders capacity towards food security and climate change adaptation in Southeast Asia"on 4-5 December 2013, which was hosted by the National University of Laos (NUOL) at Don Chan Palace Hotel, Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

Thirty four participants composed of SEARCA graduate alumni from Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Timor Leste, and Vietnam, along with NUOL, SEARCA, and University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) officers and staff attended the regional conference.

The activity, which was an off-shoot of the SEARCA-DAAD Alumni Associations Regional Consultative Workshop on 28-29 May 2013 at SEARCA, Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines (see related story), provided the venue for SEARCA’s graduate alumni to share and exchange research and extension initiatives and other best practices towards building capacities of smallholders in attaining food security and climate change adaptation in Southeast Asia.

The program was formally opened by Associate Professor Lammai Phiphakkhavong, Vice President, NUOL. In his welcome message read by Dr. Editha C. Cedicol, Program Head for Graduate Scholarship, Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit, Jr., SEARCA Director, affirmed the urgency of the issue at hand and stressed that "we should not postpone looking at how to secure sufficient, nutritious and safe food amidst the impacts of climate change. We should now keep on finding solutions and employ the best strategies to combat the effects of climate change, to capacitate the smallholders to adapt to it, and to ensure that the people in our respective countries are ready to face these challenges and know what to do when adversities strike."

Moreover, Dr. Cecilia N. Gascon, President of the Southern Luzon State University (SLSU) in the Philippines, and the RSFA, said that Typhoon Haiyan -- the recent catastrophe that struck the Philippines, and the strongest recorded typhoon in history -- is likewise an evidence of what climate change can do. This is why the theme of this two-day conference is very fitting and important.

The opening program was highlighted by a keynote presentation of Dr. Sitha Khemmarath, Vice President of Savannakhet University in Lao PDR, likewise a SEARCA graduate alumnus. Sharing and exchange of information, according to Dr. Sitha, is very important especially among Lao PDR SEARCA graduate alumni who work on areas related to food security and climate change adaptation. In the future, the country will likewise need location-specific research and development projects that will provide the foundation for strategic initiatives towards food security.

Dr. Wilfredo M. Carandang, Assistant to the Chancellor and Professor at the UPLB College of Forestry and Natural Resources (CFNR) presented a paper on the Conservation Farming Village (CFV) project, an agro-forestry based community development initiative towards improving the resilience of communities to adapt to climate change.

During this two-day activity, SEARCA graduate alumni presented their innovative projects and initiatives that focused on assisting smallholders in their respective areas to improve agricultural production towards food security amidst the threats of climate change.

A side event of the conference was the formation of the Laotian SEARCA Alumni Association, likewise facilitated by the RSFA and the election of its first set of officers, namely:President - Dr. Oudom Phonekampheng, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, NUOL; Vice President - Mr. Keopeth Phoumphon, Training Expert, Asian Disaster Preparedness Center;Secretary - Dr. Poutthasone Sibounnavong, Lecturer, Faculty of Agriculture, NUOL; andTreasurer - Mr. Linglong Sithixay, Technical Officer Planning Division, Department of Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

NUOL Vice President Associate Professor Lammai Phiphakkhavong welcomes the RSFA delegates to Vientiane, Lao PDR

SEARCA Program Head for Graduate Scholarship Dr. Editha Cedicol reads SEARCA Director Saguiguit’s welcome message

Dr. Cecilia N. Gascon, RSFA President in her opening message

Dr. Sitha Khemmarath keynotes the event