Agricultural engineers from Southeast Asian countries sustain closer integration and cooperation in education and professional practice amid the COVID-19 pandemic during the recently conducted joint ASEAN Cooperation on Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (ACABE) and ASEAN Universities Consortium on Food and Agro-based Engineering and Technology Education (AUCFA) meeting.
DA-BAFE Director Engr. Ariodear Rico, the joint meeting’s chairperson, said that ASEAN agricultural and biosystems engineers should continue the cooperation started in previous meetings amidst this pandemic via the ACABE 7 virtual meeting held in August 19, 2021. “We look forward to strengthen the preparation of action plans. There are many topics that need to be discussed today and hope that it will be successful,” said Engr. Rico.
Engr. Juana Tapel PhD., chair of organizational support and PRB-ABE PRC member, said the theme for the activity “Enhancing Cooperation on Education and Professional Practice Amidst Pandemic” was submitted to ASEAN members for their concurrence.
The lead organizer for the meeting is the Philippine Department of Agriculture through the Bureau of Agricultural and Fisheries Engineering (DA-BAFE) in partnership with the Philippine Society of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (PSABE) and the Professional Regulatory Board for Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering –Professional Regulation Commission (PRBABE-PRC).
Collaborating organizations in the meeting are the Indonesia Society of Agricultural Engineers (ISAE), Malaysian Society of Agricultural Engineers (MSAE), Thai Society of Agricultural Engineers (TSAE), and the host institution Bogor Agricultural University, Indonesia, said Dr. Tapel.
Dr. Tapel explained the objectives of the activity — to sustain closer integration and cooperation among ASEAN agricultural and biosystems engineers towards achieving competitive education amidst pandemic; strengthen mobility and employability through cross border supply mode under the ASEAN Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) on Engineering Services; link closely ACABE and AUCFA in tackling ASEAN and global issues on food security; conduct joint meetings to discuss organizational issues and concerns, come up with a collective strategic plan of actions, and to strengthen AUCFA consortium by expanding new membership; and provide venue to update the ACABE and AUCFA commitments and accomplishments.
The ACABE meeting held in the morning was participated by the presidents of the ABE professional organizations in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines. The AUCFA meeting in the afternoon had presenters/discussants from Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
Dr. M Yanuar Purwanto, Chairman of the College of Agricultural Engineering at the Indonesia Engineering Institute, was the presiding officer of the ACABE 7 meeting.
ACABE meeting plenary speakers
Engr. Fazly Mail, Malaysian Society of Agricultural Engineers Vice President, discussed how Malaysian ABEs mitigate the effects of COVID-19 pandemic. He said that normal crop production and field management in Malaysia are disrupted resulting in lower farm yields and productivity. Due to challenges in dispatching resources and services during lockdown, operations of agricultural machinery service providers are also disrupted.
On a positive note, the pandemic motivated Malaysian agriculture players to start or continue digitizing agricultural data for easier access in the future. Digital collaboration between farmers and their partners rapidly increased and has become indispensable.
Engr. Mail explained Malaysia’s strategies and mechanisms in ABE practice amid the pandemic. A well-structured agricultural mechanization system guarantees safe working conditions for operators and proper crop care. Applying mechanization systems together with digital technologies is a promising way to reduce labor dependency.
The mechanisms include precision agriculture, Variable Rate Technology (VRT) for seeding and fertilizer application, Early Warning System (EWS) for pest outbreak, autonomous equipment/tractor.
Digital marketing platforms for agricultural products facilitate sales, reduce transportation risks and allow access to the market, said Engr. Mail.
Dr. Dares Kittiyopas, President of Thailand Society of Agricultural Engineers, said border restrictions in Thailand due to the COVID-19 affected the mobility of agricultural laborers while lockdowns resulted in less human contact and interaction in the farm sector.
The pandemic resulted in a labor shortage and increased the demand for the needed farm machinery such as harvesters and handling machines, said Dr. Kittiyopas.
To address less human contact, remote control and smart agriculture devices like drones, mobile applications, digital location/mapping/ decision making were utilized. Since there was less human interaction amid the pandemic, online marketing strategies were used in farmer’s delivery businesses.
Dr. Kittiyopas proposes having a framework for collaboration among practicing ABE professionals in ASEAN countries amidst COVID-19 pandemic. Strategy and mechanism she suggested include having collaborative events such as virtual conferences, onsite exhibitions after lockdowns, and business and experts matching.
Upcoming events are the AgriTechnica Asia Regional Summit in November 2021, AgriTechnica Asia Live, Vietnam in March 2022, and AgriTechnica Asia & Hortiasia (Bangkok) on May 25-27, 2022.
As lead for Thailand, Dr. Kittiyopas formally accepted from Indonesia the chairmanship of the next ACABE meeting to be held in 2022.
Engr. Teodoro Eleda, President of Philippine Society of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineers, shared the strategies and mechanisms in ABE practice in the Philippines amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. GIS and remote sensing are used for ABE’s in project management. Virtual technology is used in ABE project monitoring.
ABEs provide support through machinery, harvesters, irrigation projects amid the pandemic, said Engr. Eleda. Bio-engineering technology enhancement for ABE is used in environmental management. Alternative approaches such as online platforms, text, mobile phones are utilized in conducting client consultation and project management.
In regards to prospects and challenges for ABEs after the pandemic, Engr. Eleda said that ABE engagement particularly in agricultural projects planning and implementation is crucial in national economic recovery. Utilization of innovations in technology, robotics, and drone technology in pest management needs to be enhanced.
The images of ABE in the new normal include strong and resilient partners in agricultural sustainability and economic recovery; leading the way in utilizing alternative technological platforms (virtual platforms) in delivering ABE services; and boosting the economy in the indirect community approach through the practice of ABEs.
Engr. Endah Augustina, President of the Indonesian Society of Agricultural Engineers (ISAE), presented the agricultural engineering challenges during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The main problem in agricultural mechanization in Indonesia amid the pandemic is the decreased government aid because the budget concentrated on buying COVID-19 vaccines and subsidies for poor people, said Engr. Augustina.
Engr. Augustina proposed several solutions on how to address the agricultural mechanization challenges amid the pandemic.
First is the optimum utilization of all machinery received from the government by professional managers. Second is buying machinery by group (not personal buying) by using credit facilities. Third is for the Indonesian government to impose regulation in order to support purchasing of locally produced agricultural machinery and reduce dependence on imported products. Fourth, the government can provide incentives and easier procedures to expand businesses outside Java island to reduce logistics and transportation costs.
The participants in the plenary discussion agreed on the creation of a working group with the Philippines with DA-BAFE Director Ariodear Rico as the head, so the Philippines can share the country’s best practices among ASEAN countries to help them in drafting agricultural mechanization laws.
Thailand agreed to share the clustering approach for farmers and the concept of mega farms. Dr. Dares Kittiyopas of Thailand is the new chairperson of ACABE.
Indonesia will create a group for commodities and set up the corporate modalities for agri-mechanization in the ASEAN region.
Ways Forward
ASEAN agricultural and biosystems engineers continue to participate in the economic recovery particularly in the implementation of agricultural projects. ASEAN ABEs will come up with a master plan to address the issues of smooth flow of goods across the ASEAN region in the new normal.
A program for young agricultural engineers that will train them in digital agriculture will be developed. Lastly, crafting of agricultural mechanization law in other ASEAN countries will be promoted.
AUCFA Meeting Presenters
Prof. Imam Santoso FTP, IPB,Chairman of the AUCFA, was the presiding officer of the AUCFA meeting.
Prof. Rossana Marie Amongo, Dean of the UPLB College of Engineering and Agro-industrial Technology, shared the experience of the ABE program in higher education institutions (HEIs) the Philippines. She discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on HEIs. The imposition of Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) during the pandemic instructed all Filipinos to stay at home, and the closure of all non-essential business establishments including schools and universities.
Prof. Amongo said that “leading universities and colleges in the Philippines found innovative ways to fulfill their three-pronged tasks of education, research and service.” The teachers were on a work from home arrangement.
There was a change in teaching strategies and modalities. The traditional face to face teaching modality was replaced with remote learning, flexible learning, and blended learning. Universities came up with alternative remote learning modalities, synchronous and asynchronous sessions, redesign of program courses, and revision of course syllabi.
The major challenge faced in ABE education in the Philippines is the digital divide. Problems that arise from the digital divide include connectivity, accessibility and affordability of basic ICT or gadgets, knowledge and skills on ICT utilization, low income due to lay-offs, low enrollment/graduation rates, and no board exam to PRC regulated profession in 2020 due to the pandemic.
For the ways forward, Prof. Amongo said one of the major flagship programs in major universities and of CHED in the new normal is digitization and transformation. Teachers and students need to digitize. ABE programs need to be adapted and redesigned. Education must be strengthened as a common good. She emphasized global community collaboration and support.
Dr. Lilik Sutiarso, a Professor at Universitas Gadjah Mada, shared the strong collaborations among universities and experts on agricultural and biosystems engineering and technology from the Indonesian perspective.
Dr. Sutiarso emphasized that Indonesian ABE students need to focus on the knowledge of systems which is an intersection of automation, environment, and culture. He envisions building a center of excellence where ASEAN countries can collaborate through the “system of systems approach.”
In regards to the national quality assurance system for ABEs Graduate Competence related to Outcome Based Education, Indonesia has a standard learning content, process, and assessment. The university has moved from an output based system to an outcome based system specially for graduate competence, said Dr. Sutiarso.
Dr. Slamet Budijanto, Dean of Faculty of Agricultural Technology and Engineering at the IPB University, discussed strengthening university partnership for the international student mobility program.
In 2020, Indonesia’s Ministry of Education launched the MBKM program or “Freedom to Learn – Independent Campus” Program implemented in all Indonesian universities. Under the MBKM program, students are given the right to take subjects outside the study program for three semesters in forms of courses or activities that are relevant to their interests.
The IPB University revised its curriculum in 2018 to respond to the challenge in the 21st century or the Industrial Revolution Era. The IPB New Curriculum (K-2020) was first implemented in academic year 2020, in line with the MBKM program. The new curriculum provides flexibility for students to manage their studies considering their interests, talents, and passion which is called “personalized learning,” explained Dr. Budijanto.
The MBKM program needs strong collaboration/partnership among universities in Indonesia and overseas, industries, government, and other stakeholders. AUCFA hopefully facilitates strengthening collaboration in student mobility programs among universities under the consortium. Potential programs can be formed in credit earning programs, student research/internship programs, ASEAN summer course programs, cultural programs, and student seminars, said Dr. Budijanto.
Dr. Azmi Yahya presented the Quality Assurance in ABE Program at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and its OBE Learning Activities.
UPM developed a Learning Management System called PUTRABLAST with available facilities including class teaching materials; announcements, important notice, group chatting and discussions; registrations for class/lab/test/exam attendance; and submissions of assignments, lab reports, project papers, test and exam answer sheets.
Lectures and laboratory meetings are conducted via Zoom meetings. Dr. Yahya said conducting online virtual lectures and laboratory activities is something new to most Malaysian professors and students.
The major issues they encountered are internet connectivity, gadgets shortage and crashing systems, data privacy (issues of copyright/plagiarism), lack of interactions during class/lab, time management (much time spent in preparing visual material content), and trust and honesty. ###Marshall Louie Asis (Published on August 25, 2021)