text size: smaller reset larger

 

 

Towards an African commons of agricultural research

CIARD is working to make agricultural research information publicly available and accessible to all (© FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri)
CIARD is working to make agricultural research information publicly available and accessible to all
© FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri

The free exchange of information is the lifeblood of public research and education. In some countries, massive resources go into creating channels for its flow, empowering researchers with access to a larger scientific community beyond their own institution. Elsewhere, scientists work in more isolated circles and have little opportunity to share their problems or solutions. This is one of the serious shortfalls holding back public research in many poorer countries, according to the partners in the Coherence in Information for Agricultural Research for Development (CIARD) initiative, which include FAO, CGIAR and DFID.

Created in 2008, CIARD is working worldwide to make agricultural research information publicly available and accessible to all. Such openness depends on the will of institutions and their scientists, but an open attitude alone is not enough when effective sharing requires detailed databases and well coordinated information networks. CIARD is thus concentrating on helping institutions set up national-scale electronic networks to share their research with each other and the world, systems that fulfil a whole checklist of needs.

African networks

Kenya and Ghana were already working on building up networks when they joined CIARD, and their systems have proven influential. Participating institutions in both countries established national coordinating centres to develop interlinked full-text repositories open to all. "They were finishing work on their pilot initiatives more or less as the CIARD framework emerged, but in any case they were already addressing the points proposed for the CIARD Checklist," says Stephen Rudgard of FAO. "So we used the experiences in these countries as inputs to the design of the framework." These countries in turn gained access to the resources, tools, and methodologies of FAO and the other partners, as well as the opportunity to share their research outputs more widely through the CIARD-RING Registry and FAO's own AGRIS database.

Electronic networks help national institutions share their research with each other and the world (© FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri)
Electronic networks help national institutions share their research with each other and the world
© FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri

The Ghana AGRIS Pilot Project was begun in 2007 to build upon the existing Ghana Agricultural Information Network System (GAINS). This network of Ghanaian agricultural and academic libraries was already a valuable resource for researchers and students, but it lacked the capacity to make digital content accessible to all. The seven partner institutions of the pilot project joined to establish a GAINS Coordinating Centre and built up linked digital repositories. For now their amassed documents are available through institutional intranets, and they will make their debut online soon. Afterwards, the pilot network will seek to expand to more institutions.

The Kenya Agricultural Information Network (KAINet), meanwhile, was built between 2006 and 2009 and now hosts 35,000 publication records and some 1,500 full-text documents. Covering everything from food security in sorghum growing regions to pest control trials for cabbage and kale, these are available online and are being exported to the global AGRIS database. System administrator Richard Mugata has seen the repository develop through its involvement in the GAINS initiative. "The focus and direction has moved to that of implementing common standards and protocols of sharing agricultural information among the partner institutions, and on the national repository, creating visibility for local content." The open access tools have encouraged scientists at the five principal partner institutions to share their work on KAINet, and according to Mugata they have already been using it to research papers, create new collaborations with colleagues, and develop proposals for new work.

Harvest, store, share

Rudgard has learned that information professionals like Mugata are ready motivators within institutions, but networks can only come together once management gets on board. Kenya and Ghana have informed CIARD's approach, Rudgard says, "in the sense that we took a more structured and joined-up approach to linking policy to practice, bringing on board managers as enablers, and wherever possible establishing formal institutional strategies." In Kenya, fortunately, Mugata has seen this pay off for the managers as well. "Managers are using the KAINet for management decisions on what direction research should go, in terms of what has been done and what is still to be done."

KAINet now hosts 35,000 publication records and some 1,500 full-text documents (© FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri)
KAINet now hosts 35,000 publication records and some 1,500 full-text documents
© FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri

Of course, these information systems will be what the scientists make of them, and the other half of the task will be to encourage an open culture of public information sharing. As a next step, the CIARD partners are conferring with scientists at participating institutions to explore the potential gains and concerns of wider communication. Knowledge sharing specialist Nadia Manning-Thomas is leading this inquiry in a suitably open forum, the CGIAR Information & Communications Technology and Knowledge Management (ICT-KM) blog. Ghanaian and Kenyan information professionals have informed the more institutional "HOW2Share" element of the CIARD approach, as Manning-Thomas puts it, but the "WHY2Share", a question for scientists themselves, is taking the initiative in a different and equally important direction.

Many researchers are accustomed to retaining more control over the flow of their information and ideas, but Manning-Thomas hopes that the professional and public benefits of sharing will become obvious as more scientists come to use the networks. In this, researchers might look to farmers, who have always relied on the benefits of shared knowledge. KAINet frames the philosophy in its motto, which could apply just as well to either farmers or scientists: "Harvest, Store, Share."

Written by: T. Paul Cox

Date published: January 2011

 

Have your say

 

The New Agriculturist is a WRENmedia production.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.
Accept
Read more