International Network for the
INASP Newsletter No. 28, March 2005
The provision of information services to rural China: A brief overview
The Chinese Government has a responsibility for feeding around 1/5 of the planet’s population over 1/15 of the earth’s land surface. More than 70% of the population lives in rural areas. To the Chinese, the development of agriculture, rural economy and farmers’ prosperity (San Nong) is a subject of major interest and continuing concern.
China has had one of the fastest growing economies in the world thanks to economic reforms over the past two decades. The adoption and use of ICTs have also increased tremendously. By the end of 2004 the number of Internet and mobile phone users in China had reached c.100 million and 310 million, respectively. However, wealth and digital divides exist both among different regions and between urban and rural areas, with rural areas in Western China being the least developed.
A joint field survey in China in 2003 by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and FAO identified three successful rural information services models in China:
(a) Service station model: information services centres located in counties, townships and villages, which form a three-level rural information service network;
In order to facilitate the development of San Nong, the Chinese Government has formulated a series of policies and adopted several approaches in delivering information services to rural communities. Many local governments, research and training institutions, NGOs and the private sector have also joined forces in this cause.
The ‘Golden Agriculture’ Programme launched by the Chinese Government in 1994 was aimed at speeding up and facilitating the development of agricultural and rural information infrastructure and services, and establishing “Information Systems for Agricultural Integrated Management and Services” in China between 1995 and 2010. As a part of this programme, and through the efforts of the Chinese MoA, a rural market information services network has gradually been established.
Marketing and production-related information services have been provided through this network, which connects focal points at provincial, city, county and township levels, and also links the leading enterprises of agriculture, wholesale markets, intermediary agencies and large households of production and business operations. In another initiative the Information Institute of the Beijing Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences has, since 2000, undertaken an extensive distance education and information programme delivered through the Internet for farmers, providing farmers with live e-lectures, multimedia courseware and information services.
In many cases traditional media are more appropriate for information content development and delivery to the rural communities. Efforts have been made to deliver information through multiple media, including printed, digital and audio-visual media. For example, with TV sets and DVD/VCD players being widely available in rural households, many national and local TV and Video programmes have been developed to cater for the information needs of the rural communities. One noticeable example is Channel 7 of the China Central TV (CCTV), which is a dedicated Agricultural Channel showing programmes on practical agricultural technologies and knowledge.
Much progress has been made by various agencies in the provision of information services to the rural China. The development of San Nong in China calls for long-term strategies and continuous efforts in this worthy cause.
From a small beginning to a mass movement: A rural technology revolution in India
The day after Christmas was a sad day for most of South and South East Asia. It began with an early morning earthquake that erupted under sea off the coast of Sumatra and triggered a tsunami that devastated the lives of millions of people.
Two fishing villages near Pondicherry on the southeastern coast India were not as badly affected as most others. In Veerampattinam, the first wave reached the shore at 08:45. Mr Mani, who saw the huge waves, rushed to the village knowledge centre, broke open the door and used the public address system to warn people to move to safer places.
Nallavadu did even better. A former knowledge centre volunteer, Mr Vijayakumar, currently in Singapore, saw the tsunami notice and called home to warn his family. The knowledge centre was opened and the public address system used to warn the entire village. Not a single person died in Nallavadu.
The lesson: if information reaches in time it can make a big difference. If timely access to information is so very useful, why can’t we make it available to every village in India?
That is precisely what Prof M S Swaminathan, well known for his central role in ushering in the Green Revolution in India in the late 1960s, wants to do. These knowledge centres and ten others like them in Pondicherry were established by the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), a nongovernmental organisation devoted to sustainable development through appropriate application of science and technology, with financial support from the International Development Research Centre of Canada.
The first of the centres was set up in 1997, and all are connected by a hybrid wired and wireless network with several computers and reasonable connectivity. Each is managed by volunteers provided by the local communities and trained by MSSRF.
These centres provide information that the people need in their daily lives. Anyone can walk in and ask questions and the volunteers will find the answers from databases created by MSSRF staff in partnership with village volunteers.
Most of the information is gathered and processed into databases created at the MSSRF’s regional hub in Villianur, and some information is downloaded from the web. Information is also gathered from experts, academic and research institutions, field stations, etc. The information is sent to the centres using different technologies such as VHF two-way radio and spread spectrum. Some of these knowledge centres are members of the Open Knowledge Network and use the World Space Radio technology to exchange information. MSSRF also uses an Indian satellite to exchange information in some centres located in the neighbouring State of Tamil Nadu.
The focus of these centres is on people, their context and their needs. They provide the information local people need and help them use the information to their advantage. A few volunteers who have demonstrated exceptional commitment have been elected Fellows of the National Virtual Academy, which was formed about two years ago.
To share the benefits of the knowledge centre approach, MSSRF conducts an annual South-South Exchange Traveling Workshop for development activists from developing countries. Participants from Asia, Africa and Latin America visit knowledge centres and these lively face-to-face meetings result in considerable crosscultural and experiential learning.
With the experience gained over more than six years in setting up and operating community knowledge centres, the Foundation is building a National Alliance with a view to achieving a rural knowledge revolution by setting up a knowledge centre in every one of India’s more than 630,000 villages within the next three years. Called the Mission 2007, the ambitious programme will draw on a huge network of partner institutions - including government departments, corporations, industry associations, academia, research laboratories, field stations, banks, and civil society organisations.
When Prof Swaminathan announced the Mission 2007, many thought he was trying to do the impossible, but the value of the knowledge centres in mediating the effects of the tsunami have changed minds. Seemingly impossible tasks can be achieved through vision, determination and dedicated work.
RAIN: A new African agricultural information initiative gets off the ground
Operational since 2003, the Regional Agricultural Information Network (RAIN) is one of the 17 regional network programmes and projects (NPPs) operating under the umbrella of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) in 10 countries in eastern and central Africa (ECA) - Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
RAIN absorbed AfricaLink, whose main objective was to improve access to agricultural information by integrating new Internet technologies into the ICM (information and communication management) operations of research networks and systems in the ECA region. RAIN continues to support access to IT hardware and software to selected National Agricultural Research Institutes (NARIs).
Beginning with a priority-setting exercise and consultations with stakeholders and experts, a 5-year strategic plan and work programme (2004-2008) has been published and a Regional Steering Committee (RSC) established to provide operational guidance to the network. It has representatives from all the ten NARIs and other experts in ICT/ICM.
The focus of the Network’s future activities include:
As part of enhancing regional capacity in information and communication management RAIN has initiated several activities. The most noteworthy is a training needs’ assessment in ICM/ICT. The study focuses on human capacities and training needs to elicit more investment in focused capacity building with a longer-term vision. RAIN has also been involved in conducting training workshops in ICT/ICM. In addition a baseline study has been undertaken, so that progress of the network will be measured.
In order to ensure wide stakeholder participation at country level, RAIN has organised national workshops to identify and prioritise national strategies/activities that respond to RAIN regional priorities. Six country meetings have already been held in Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, Rwanda and Uganda involving key stakeholders.
RAIN undertakes public relations activities for itself as well as for ASARECA and the NPPs. These include publications - brochures, posters and the ASARECA InfoPack which describes ASARECA and its NPPs. The key documents are available in English and French.
The RAIN web site <http://www.asareca.org/rain> features both English and French interfaces. It includes a contacts database for ASARECA that focuses on individuals and institutions. Data are available over the Internet in a selective manner, depending on the access rights of the users. This facilitates wide access and at the same time maintains control over the sharing of sensitive information (e.g. email addresses, restricted reports, etc.).
RAIN is also active in collaborating with other sub-regional organisations (SROs) namely CORAF (Conseil Ouest Africain Pour la Recherche et le Développement Agricole); SADCFANR (Southern African Development Community /Food Agriculture and Natural Resource Department), and FARA (Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa) which is the apex body for Africa’s agricultural research. This has resulted in the formation of a Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Agricultural Information System (FARA-RAIS) which operates under the aegis of the GLOBal ALliance of the Regional Agricultural Information Systems (GLOBAL.RAIS) which is a project by GFAR.
Framework for Action: ICM4ARD
After a series of regional consultations February-May 2004, the GFAR (Global Forum for Agricultural Research) Secretariat in June organised an interregional consultation in Rome. This meeting, which was attended by all the managers of the information systems of the five Regional Fora and by Information Officers of FAO Regional Offices, led to the definition of a global framework for action, the so-called Information and Communication Management for Agricultural Research for Development, ICM4ARD.
This Global Partnership Programme aims at addressing the inequity of access to ICT enabled agricultural information systems by the GFAR stakeholders.
Four main issues for intervention to enable greater equity in access to agricultural information globally have been identified:
The Global Partnership Programme was unanimously endorsed by the Members of the GFAR Steering Committee during the GFAR statutory meetings in Mexico (October 2004), and now the GFAR Secretariat is moving forward to acquire the required funding to launch the Programme.
Anancy: CTA’s virtual resources centre
An ancient Afro-Caribbean legend tells how one day, back in the mists of time, the God of heaven decided to give Anancy, the spider, a pot containing all the wisdom of the world and asked him to share it with all those he might meet. A noble vocation, one that the CTA decided to entrust to its virtual resources centre, Anancy.
Developed by the CTA in collaboration with the ZADI / ISICAD of the German Ministry of Agriculture, Anancy is a web portal designed to answer the continually growing demand for agricultural and rural development information on the part of CTA staff and its ACP partners.
The principle behind the relational database is the philosophy of free access. The strategy underlying the collection of information is based on a progressive movement consisting, in its initial phase, of numbering the publications and other sources of information generated by the CTA programmes. Currently more than 3.5 gigabytes of texts have been assembled containing the following: the historical index of Spore, the Centre’s information bulletin; the complete texts of CTA seminars, studies and technical publications; the radio dossiers produced by the CTA, downloadable in MP3 format; and information produced by the CTA’s other thematic platforms (Agritrade, ICT Update, Web Portal on Knowledge).
The navigation system enables less competent users to access the available resources by progressing through themes, sub-themes, collections, regions or countries. More experienced users will benefit from the multicriteria search option. Access to the information resources on the Web is made easier by the use of a number of tools, including:
The CTA has started discussions with AGORA, a system of access to international scientific journals and publications on agricultural and rural development, with the intention of extending this service to the ACP countries.
And finally, Anancy reflects a series of challenges not simply limited to the problems of numbering or storage. CTA is convinced that information systems must be shared on the same basis as the information itself. The notion of ‘virtual’ that Anancy reflects, therefore, is nothing more than potentiality itself, it is the reality of the future (Guedon.1998). With this in mind, CTA’s intention is to transfer the solutions employed to the ACP countries in order to contribute to the progressive creation of a decentralised network of resource centres in agricultural and rural development.
Reference: Guedon. 1998. The digital library: an oxymoron? In theses published by the University of Lyon [e ligne] <http://www.theses.univ-lyon2.fr/info/theses/nlm-fr.html > (accessed January 2002).
A. Koda Traore
Programme coordinator, Communication Channels and Services Department Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA), Wageningen, Netherlands
Centre de ressources virtuel du CTA - Anancy
Une vielle légende afro - caribéenne disait qu’un jour, en des temps immémoriaux, le Dieu du ciel prit la décision de confier à Anancy l’araignée, un pot qui contenait toute la sagesse du monde et lui demanda de la partager avec tous ceux qu’il aurait à rencontrer. C’est là une noble vocation que le CTA décida d’assigner à son centre de ressource virtuel, Anancy.
Développé par le CTA en coopération avec le ZADI / ISICAD du Ministère Allemand de l’Agriculture, Anancy est un portail Web qui a pour ambition de répondre à la demande sans cesse croissante d’information du personnel CTA et de ses partenaires ACP.
La base de données relationnelle a été conçue sur le principe de philosophie de libre accès (PHP/ MySQL). Le modèle relationnel ainsi que la structure de cette base de données sont accessibles sur le portail. La stratégie de collecte s'est fondée sur une démarche progressive qui a consisté dans un premier temps à numériser les publications et les autres ressources d'information générées par les programmes du CTA. A l’heure actuelle, plus de 3.5 GB de textes ont été collectés contenant : l'index historique de Spore, revue mythique et porte flambeau du Centre, les textes intégraux des actes de séminaires, études et publications techniques, les dossiers radio produits par le CTA, téléchargeables en format MP3 et les informations produites par les autres plateformes thématiques du CTA (Agritrade, ICT Update, portail Web sur les connaissances).
Le système de navigation permet aux utilisateurs les moins avertis d'accéder facilement aux ressources disponibles en passant par les thèmes, sous thèmes, collections, régions ou pays. Les utilisateurs plus avertis bénéficient d'une option de recherches multicritères. L’accès aux ressources d’information du Web est facilité par plusieurs outils parmi lesquels : Le format RSS pour partager les dernières informations des partenaires du Centre comme Eldis, Euforic, EARD Infosys+. L’adaptation de moteurs de recherche comme Google pour effectuer des recherches simultanées dans plusieurs portails Web spécialisés sur des questions aussi importantes que la sécurité alimentaire ou la biotechnologie. Le CTA a entamé avec AGORA, système d'accès aux revues et publications scientifiques internationales sur le développement agricole et rural, des discussions pour étendre ce service aux pays ACP.
En définitive, Anancy renvoie à une série de défis qui ne se limitent pas seulement à la question de numérisation ou de dépôt. Le CTA est convaincu que les systèmes d'information doivent être partagés au même titre que l'information elle même. La notion de virtuel à laquelle Anancy renvoie n'est donc autre que du potentiel et en tant que tel, il est la réalité en devenir. A ce titre, le CTA entend transférer les solutions utilisées dans les pays ACP afin de contribuer à la mise en place progressive d'un consortium décentralisé de centres de ressources dans le développement agricole et rural.
A. Koda Traore
1. ZADI - Zentralstelle für Agrardokumentation und -information Centre de documentation et d’information du Ministère de l’Agriculture (http://www.zadi.de <http://www.zadi.de>)
AgroWeb Network - Platform for Agricultural Information and Knowledge Exchange
The purpose of the article
History of AW Network
FAO's role is to facilitate the development of AgroWeb by providing advice and support to the national working groups, assisting in the improvement of services in the most important subjects, and working closely with national coordinators and the web editors. Special sites have been established for the "National FAO Committee" under the guidance of the National FAO Committees, and linked to the AgroWeb pages.
Figure 2. Horizontal networking
Thus, the initiative from the stakeholders resulted in the creation of horizontal networks in the structure of vertical connections starting from regional and sub-regional to national and in some cases also sub-national levels. The structure of such networks with an example on “Education and Distance Learning” sub-portal can be found in Figure 2 Picture 2. The next step of the decentralisation of the AgroWeb Network is the facilitation of the farm level participation and the creation of a network of farmers’ organisations in participating countries.
Expert’s visibility in the web and responsibility for content provided
The updating and maintenance of the AgroWeb portal pages are managed by national working groups, which consist of the national coordinators and AgroWeb authors at the country level. All national AgroWeb portals are created and updated by local experts, who are known as AgroWeb authors. The authors' work is supported by the IT Working Group of AW Network to ensure a quick and efficient updates for all portals. Most of the inputs from the AgroWeb authors are on a voluntary basis.
Promotion of the sense of ownership
Common standards but not uniformity
The national AgroWeb portals are published in English and national languages to help web-based communication within and among the participating countries and worldwide. The content and services published in national languages differ significantly, due to the differences in capabilities and resources between countries, and the institutional background of AgroWeb authors. We try to keep a similarity in the structure and design of all pages to make them easy to navigate and to be as user friendly as possible, avoiding the provision of unnecessary information to users in the form of different colours and architecture, as illustrated in Figure 3.
Multi-dimensional coverage of agriculture-related information
Community in practice and bottom-up approach
AgroWeb Network in Central Asia and Caucasus
The AgroWeb Network was endorsed a year ago at a meeting of official representatives from the Ministries of Agriculture or the Agricultural Academies, participating in the meeting for the establishment of the Regional Agricultural Information System for the CAC, in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, January 2004. The Network was perceived as a relevant initiative, enabling (i) the management of national information resources in agricultural research for development, (ii) provides a gateway function from the regional level, facilitating access to national resources. NAWPs were considered a relevant basis for the platform of the Regional Agricultural Information System for CAC region.
Agricultural Information Management is often weak at the national level; indeed sometimes an appropriate infrastructure for the provision of an effective flow of information and knowledge to end users is altogether absent. The development of the AgroWeb Network in the CAC region therefore is in need of strong support if it is to fulfil its mission of being a regional network.
Figure 3. National AgroWeb portals
Forestry library centenary at Oxford
2005 marks the centenary of the Forestry Library at Oxford University, which has become globally renowned for the breadth of its collections and the range of services it supports.
In 1905 the School of Forestry based at the Royal Indian Engineering College, Coopers Hill, Windsor, transferred to Oxford, along with its director, the noted German forester Sir William Schlich, and its library, which was based on his personal collection.
In the 1920s the library took on the role of collecting the reports and working plans being produced throughout the British Imperial Forestry Service (IFS) and creating a central index for them. The Current monthly record of forestry literature was circulated throughout the Empire and was very well received, soon outgrowing the capacity of the then 1.5 library staff to maintain.
The abstracting organisation, the Imperial Agricultural Bureaux (IAB), then setting up subject-specific sections in centres of excellence around the UK, was invited to take over the operation and in 1939 the first issue of Forestry Abstracts was produced by the Imperial Forestry Bureau, covering all the incoming stock of the university’s Forestry Library. Thus began a highly successful partnership in the collection, abstracting, storage and retrieval of global forestry literature which continues to this day.
Now managed by Oxford University Library Services, the Oxford Forest Information Service (OFIS) operates a worldwide enquiry and document delivery service, and its collections may be consulted in Oxford by anyone with an interest in trees and forests. The study of ‘classic’ forestry has declined worldwide in recent years, and indeed is not currently taught at Oxford; but there has been a corresponding increase in interest in broader environmental issues and OFIS is used today by a much wider constituency.
The entire abstracts database, now containing over half a million entries, is available from CAB International (as IAB is now known) on CD-ROM (TREECD) and the internet (ForestScience), and an encyclopaedic range of interpretive material, largely drawn from the library’s collections, is gathered in CABI’s Forestry Compendium. About one third of the library’s older materials are available on microfilm, stocked by many forestry libraries around the world, and the centenary year will be marked by the launch of the Oxford Digital Library for Forestry, making a growing range of materials freely available online.
OFIS is currently working closely with various international bodies in the creation of the Global Forest Information Service (GFIS) designed to maximise access to forest-related materials for all stakeholders, in the compilation of a new global directory of forest information services, and the revision of the now out-dated but still-used Oxford Decimal Classification for Forestry. With CABI it is also engaged in developing improved forestry terminologies and ontologies, and in offering training courses, particularly for developing countries. With Nottingham University it coordinates a subject gateway for evaluated internet resources in forestry within the BIOME service. The centenary year will conclude with a workshop at Oxford on the theme of “forestry information - past, present and future”, which will, we hope, set our objectives for the next one hundred years of service to the forestry community!
INASP Symposium: Investing in Scientific Knowledge: Strategies and Models for the Developing World
This Symposium was held to explore new thinking on ways in which scientific research and dissemination of its results can be improved and become drivers of development. It drew together experts from research, publishing, and information management in developing countries, as well as participants from funding agencies and governments.
“Science, higher education and research are back on the agenda of developing countries”, said Carol Priestley, Director of INASP. “Pakistan and India are good examples of what can be achieved through sustained investment in education and research when there is the political will”.
Keynote speaker Professor Atta-ur- Rahman, Federal Minister for Science and Technology and Chairman of the Higher Education Commission for the Government of Pakistan, spoke about how his country has increased its science and technology budget by 6000% since 2000 and its ambition to develop a knowledge-based economy. His words demonstrated how political commitment at the highest level can lead to change, and emphasised that science needs to be championed and recognised across government as contributing to the country’s wider national goals.
Dylan Winder from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) argued that investments in science and in national capacities to use scientific results are essential to achieve the millennium development goals set out by the international community.
Alma Swan, of Key Perspectives, presented research showing that the proportion of internationally indexed scientific articles from outside USA and Western Europe has grown from 25% in 1983 to 50% in 2003, representing over a million peer reviewed papers. For many countries, the trend is rising with some ‘tigers’ recording massive percentage growth rates that reflect both increasing national commitments to science as well as an increase in the quality of the research output. This was seen as evidence that the digital divide is beginning to close, a status endorsed by Bob Campbell, President of Blackwell Publishing who noted that effective investment strategies, providing tools to publish and access to scientific information are essential to the creation of research and science systems in developing countries.
69 participants from 36 different countries attended the Symposium, including around 26 people from developing countries. Three Latin American countries were represented, 4 Asian countries and 11 African countries, as well as participants from the UK, USA and Europe. The Symposium was held at the Blackwell Publishing offices and was cosponsored by Blackwell, EBSCO, Elsevier Foundation, Oxford University Press, Nature, Springer, T&F Informa, Thomson Scientific and John Wiley and sons.
Presentations from the symposium can be downloaded from the INASP website: <http://www.inasp.info/symposium/2004.html >
Electronic Library Information Navigator (ELIN@)
The initial workshop in the ELIN@PERI pilot implementation programme was undertaken in January with 10 participants from Rwanda, Uganda and Pakistan. Additional training workshops will be run later in the year within each institution. For more information visit <http://www.inasp.info/peri/elin/>
Globalization of Information: Agriculture at the Crossroads
Using Google for African Studies Research: a guide to effective web searching is now freely accessible at < http://www.hanszell.co.uk/google/>. It is published as an adjunct to the new third edition of The African Studies Companion: A Guide to Information Sources (online at <http://www.africanstudiescompanion.com/>) although it can also be used on its own.
The guide is designed to help the user get the most out of Google’s Web searching techniques, and at the same time provides a critical evaluation of Google’s many Web search features, services, and tools. The guide is liberally interspersed with examples of searches, and search strategies, relating to Africa or African studies topics. Comments and suggestions from users of the Guide will be most welcome.
The Science and Development Network (SciDev.Net) has just launched two new dossiers (http://www.scidev.net) on research and development policy and technology transfer. These policy briefs, opinion pieces and features have been commissioned and collated under the guidance of an international panel of 23 academic advisors. Policy briefs include:
To keep informed register for the weekly email alert: http://www.scidev.net/register
More information and copies of electronic presentations can be obtained from the meeting rapporteurs: Kwami Ahiabenu II or Margaret Sraku-Lartey
Digital Library of India
Read the latest issue and sign up to the email version at: <http://ictupdate.cta.int>
The Eldis/HRC Health Resource Guide has been re-launched with a new look and expanded subject coverage. There are new sections on maternal and newborn health, child health, sexual and reproductive health, malaria and tuberculosis.
Key readings (available free online) have been chosen and prepared in collaboration with technical experts. Each section covers statistical trends and indicators, programme approaches, access to services and information, health systems, and rights and advocacy. To access the new guide, go to <http://www.eldis.org/health/>
International Veterinary Information Service (IVIS) is a not-for-profit organisation established to provide information to veterinarians, veterinary students and animal health professionals worldwide using Internet technology. The IVIS website provides free access to original, up-to-date publications organised in electronic books each edited by highly qualified editors, proceedings of veterinary meetings, short courses, continuing education (lecture notes, manuals, autotutorials and interactive websites), an international calendar of veterinary events, image collections and much more with the help of private and corporate sponsors.
<http://www.ivis.org/authorforms/contributors_list.asp http://www.ivis.org/authorforms/contributors_list.asp> For further details of the above see <http://www.plantlib.ox.ac.uk/forestry>
Bandwidth management and optimisation training support - new programme
The International Forestry Review is available free in 2005 from PERI. See:
Expanded INASP information systems training team
|The next INASP Newsletter will be published in July 2005.
If you would like to contribute to its contents, please write to the editor at the Oxford address.
Contributions must be received by 1 May 2005.
International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications
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