International Network for the Availability
of Scientific Publications


INASP Newsletter No. 28, March 2005


Accessing and managing agricultural information
by Peter Ballantyne

Despite increasing urbanisation, most people in developing countries still live in rural areas or depend on rural activities for large parts of their livelihoods. Information for agricultural and rural communities is therefore a crucial tool in the fight against poverty and the battle to achieve food security. Information helps to open up and provide opportunities for poor people, it helps them to actually make use of the opportunities and to shape their own lives, and it helps reduce their vulnerability to sickness and misfortune.

Getting such information to rural communities and the people who support them is the focus of this issue of the INASP Newsletter. It can take many forms and directions.

Contributions from China, India and Armenia illustrate how information and knowledge is being brought to rural areas, using a range of technologies from the Internet through radio, television and loudspeakers. One of the major challenges such initiatives face is to effectively support the local efforts of the rural communities and farmers themselves; to ensure that local information and communication management capacities are built and strengthened, and encouraging the farmers to select which information they want to download or consume and which local knowledge they are willing to upload and share with others.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, some of the approaches used for this farmer-tofarmer sharing and exchange are also used to foster communication and collaboration among research and academic institutions working in agriculture. The East and Central African RAIN project seeks to build networks of information professionals and practitioners both in-country and at the regional level. Like the farmers, they also aim to more effectively access, download and share relevant information, building information systems and resources for use by their colleagues.

Such an approach doesn’t end there. RAIN is one of several cogs in a global network animated by the Global Forum on Agricultural Research. With regional member networks in all corners of the world, the Forum seeks to ensure that information can easily flow across countries and regions and between rural communities and international centres of excellence. These centres have valuable specialised roles in the overall system. For instance, the forest information system at Oxford can provide access to almost 100 years of specialised forest knowledge in its library and databases while the brand new ‘anancy’ virtual library for the first time provides an easily accessible point to enter the information generated by the CTA in its first 20 years. There are many others with their own specialisations.

The global and indeed national architectures of agricultural information are thus quite complex with many interesting design elements and a sprawling layout. For any of us to get to the best information, we need a good understanding of the whole picture, useful contacts in the right places, and skills and precision tools with which to ‘drill down’ to the precise information that’s needed. As the many architects keep adding features to the information architecture, it becomes more and more critical that the various components and initiatives communicate effectively, that they are complementary, and that accurate charts and maps and tools are provided to help information seekers easily and quickly get to the information they need.

It is appropriate therefore that this issue coincides with the 50th anniversary of the International Association of Agricultural Information Specialists - one of whose aims is to foster collaboration among its members and the many agricultural information system architects and builders that we are becoming.

Peter Ballantyne
Deputy Director, INASP, Oxford, UK


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The provision of information services to rural China: A brief overview
conference participants
by Qiaoqiao Zhang

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;
(b)Farmers’ home model: independent and open agricultural facilities integrating the functions of agricultural technology consultation, agro-technological extension, information services and business operations; and
(c) Association model: associations which are formed according to common interests provide their members with information on technology, crop seeds or animal breeds, production material and marketing and related information services.

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.

library staff

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.

Qiaoqiao Zhang
Director, China, CAB International,
Wallingford, UK

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From a small beginning to a mass movement: A rural technology revolution in India
by Subbiah Arunachalam
Focus on people - their needs, their contexts
Example information provided at these centres:

  • Market prices and availability of grains, vegetables, fertilisers, etc.
  • Availability of doctors (and veterinarians) in nearby hospitals.
  • Training and employment opportunities available in the region.
  • Wave heights in the Bay of Bengal.
  • Results of public school examinations conducted by the state educational board.

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.

Subbiah Arunachalam
Distinguished Fellow, M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai, India


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RAIN: A new African agricultural information initiative gets off the ground
by Dorothy Mukhebi

rain logo

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:

  • strengthening capacity and influencing future targeted training;
  • catalysing national agricultural information policies and strategies that should lead to regional policies and strategies;
  • contributing to national ICT Policies;
  • working with researchers (referring to ASARECA NPPs) to improve information dissemination;
  • motivating (encouraging, inducing) generation of scientific information;
  • developing information management standards;
  • catalysing networking/partnerships among key information professionals and organisations to promote information sharing regionally and globally;
  • marketing agricultural information products.

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.

Dorothy Mukhebi, Coordinator at her desk

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 <> 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.

Dorothy Mukhebi
Coordinator, Regional Agricultural Information Network RAIN/ASARECA, Entebbe, Uganda

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Framework for Action: ICM4ARD
by Jean-François Giovannetti


AARINENA (Association of Agricultural Research Institutions in the Near East and North Africa)
APAARI (Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions)
ASARECA (Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa)
CACAARI (Central Asian and Caucasian Association of Agricultural Research Institutions)
CORAF (Conseil Ouest Africain Pour la Recherche et le Développement Agricole/ West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development)
FARA (Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa)
FORAGRO (Forum for the Americas on Agricultural Research and Technological Development)
GFAR (Global Forum for Agricultural Research)
SADC (Southern African Development Community)

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 need to strengthen the capacity of NARS leaders to advocate and articulate appropriate policies and strategies, attract more resources and greater investment for further development of ICT enabled national agricultural information systems (NAIS).
  • Capacity development - in terms of infrastructure, institutions and human skills - among ARD stakeholders to create, manage, share, exchange and use scientific and technical information, technology related information, research and research management information, extension, outreach and market information etc.
  • Greater integration of national and regional agricultural information systems and easier access to them, especially their websites, through a global alliance of the regional agricultural information systems Web Ring and cohesive activities for improved management and more seamless sharing and exchange of information, experience and knowledge in agricultural information management through a knowledge network.
  • The need to establish appropriate governance structures such as task forces and steering committees for global, regional and sub-regional agricultural information systems of GFAR, AARINENA, APAARI, CACAARI, FARA, ASARECA, CORAF, SADC and FORAGRO. These should promote and support more equitable access, sharing and exchange of agricultural information.

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.

Jean-François Giovannetti
Senior Officer GFAR Secretariat


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Anancy: CTA’s virtual resources centre
by A. Koda Traore


Accronyms and explanations
Agritrade:Website on challenges facing trade in agricultural produce in future
ACP-EU relations <>
AGORA: Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture <>
ELDIS: Gateway to information on development issues <>
EUFORIC: European Forum on International Cooperation <>
EARD Infosys+: European Information System on Agricultural Research for Development <>
ICT Update: Current awareness bulletin on ICTs <>
Knowledge for development: Observatory on Science and Technology for ACP Agriculture and Rural Development <>
ZADI: Zentralstelle für Agrardokumentation und-information:The German Ministry of Agriculture’s documentation and information 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 RSS format for sharing the latest information from the Centre’s partners such as Eldis, Euforic and EARD Infosys+, and
  • an adapted form of search engines such as Google to carry out simultaneous searches of several Web portals specialising in important questions like food safety or biotechnology.

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.

anancy website

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] < > (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[1] 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[2], ICT Update[3], portail Web sur les connaissances[4]).

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[5], Euforic[6], EARD Infosys+[7]. 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[8], 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[9]. 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
Programme coordinator
Communication Channels and Services Department
Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA)

1. ZADI - Zentralstelle für Agrardokumentation und -information Centre de documentation et d’information du Ministère de l’Agriculture ( <>)
2. Agritrade - Site Web sur les enjeux du commerce des produits agricoles dans les relations futures ACP -UE (<>)
3. ICT Update - Bulletin d’alerte sur les technologies d’information et de communication ( <>)
4. Connaissances pour le développement - Observatoire des sciences et technologies au niveau du développement agricole et rural des pays ACP (<>)
5. ELDIS - Gateway to information on development issues ( <>)
6. EUFORIC - Forum Européen de Coopération Internationale ( <>)
7. EARD Infosys+ - European Information System on Agricultural Research for Development (<>)
8. AGORA - Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture (<>)
9. Guedon.1998. La bibliothèque numérique : un oxymore? In thèses université de Lyon [e ligne] <> (page consulté en janvier 2002)


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AgroWeb Network - Platform for Agricultural Information and Knowledge Exchange
by Arman Manukyan
This is an expanded version of the article appearing in the print journal

National AgroWeb portals
Figure 1. Entry points to AgroWeb Network ( (AW Network), (AW Central Asia and Caucasus), (AW South East Europe), (Pilot initiative of the AW Network)

The purpose of the article
This short article aims to provide very basic information about the AgroWeb (AW) Network. The main emphasis will be put on the structure, managerial mechanisms and factors that result in the sustainability of the AW Network. However, some basic information about the history and development of the AW Network with special emphasis on Central Asia and the Caucasus (CAC) region also will be provided. The issues of the technical concept and special features of the development of thematic networks in the structure of AW will not be discussed in this article. In the meantime, readers are welcome to address their questions of specific interest to the author and request more detailed information.

History of AW Network
The AgroWeb international network was established in 1998 by organisations and individuals involved in agricultural and rural development in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and the Former Soviet Union (FSU) countries in order to rectify the lack of information on the Internet about agricultural topics in the region. It is maintained by representatives from the 25 participating Balkan, New Independent States, Baltic states, Caucasus region and Central Asia, and European Union countries currently participating in the network. It is also facilitated by the regional chapter of the International Association of Agricultural Information Specialists (IAALD) and by the Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations (FAO).

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.

In order to contribute to the agricultural and rural development AgroWeb Network aims to facilitate the generation, collection and provision of agriculture related information, knowledge and best practice through:

  • monitoring information about and related links to agricultural institutions;
  • providing necessary environment for networking activities among different thematic groups;
  • promoting national and international events related to the objectives of AgroWeb;
  • undertaking capacity development activities and promoting inter-institutional cooperation using:
  • development of communication schemes at regional, sub-regional, national, intra-national levels and enhance collaboration both among participating institutions and other organisations involved in development activities;
  • development and promotion of common standards and guidelines for information management.

Networking principles
Decentralisation (combination of vertical and horizontal networking)
The networking activities in AgroWeb are based on common interests and responsibilities of individuals and institutions, their sense of ownership. This was achieved thanks to informal initiatives mostly in the form of voluntary participation. Altogether these components created a positive environment for the implementation of a decentralised approach to the AgroWeb Network. This was also possible because AgroWeb was not a result of formal agreements or supported by any kind of project, which leads mostly to the development of centralised networking.

horizontal networkingFigure 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
Each page visited in the AgroWeb network has an expert behind it, whom it is easy to find either on the same page (at least the email address) or on the page called “working group”, the link to which is provided at the bottom of each page visited. Most of the experts have their personal pages accessible through the Internet with detailed information about their CVs and also with photos, which sometimes compensate for the disadvantages of virtual communication. Moreover, there is a contact database for the Network where the experts involved in AgroWeb development can be found on a centralised database. The responsibility for the content provided is shared between the Program Coordinator, National Coordinators if it is a sub-portal coordinated by them, or Web Editors or AgroWeb Authors in all other cases.

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
The AW Network is characterised by the voluntary participation of members who share their responsibility and have a common vision of the development of Information and Communication Management in agriculture. Almost all development activities of the network are driven by demand of professional communities and these joint efforts result in the appearance of new tools and services for better functioning. The costs associated with the participating countries' contributions to the AgroWeb network are borne entirely by the participating countries', projects and on a voluntary basis of participating institutions and experts. This also contributes to the creation of the strong sense of the ownership, which is a key component in ensuring the sustainability of AgroWeb Network as a community in practice.

Common standards but not uniformity
National web pages have been established as portals for the countries in the region, which provide access to information in a standard format and structure about agriculture-related institutions - ministries, libraries, information centers, universities, research centers, NGOs, agro-marketing organizations, and also on professional issues - animal genetic resources, veterinary medicine, food safety, fishery, forestry, etc.

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
In addition to the national portal pages, cross-cutting subject areas have been identified and a growing number of thematic sectors of the network are being coordinated by regional focal points. Examples of such special thematic portals are:

  • Library and Information Centers - coordinated by Mr. Tomaz Bartol, Agricultural Faculty, Ljubljana, Slovenia.
  • Veterinary Medicine - coordinated by Professor Karel Hruska <>, Veterinary Research Institute, Brno, Czech Republic in close cooperation with the Centaur Network - <>
  • Animal Genetic Resources - coordinated by Arunas Svitojus, Baltic Genofond, Vilnius, Lithuania
  • Food and Nutrition - coordinated by Dr Mirjana Pavlovic, public health institute, Subotica, Serbia
  • Forestry - coordinated by Mr. Volker Sase, Forestry officer, FAO SEUR. Budapest
  • NGOs and CSOs - coordinated by Mr Michal Demes, Information Management Specialist, FAO
  • FarmNet - coordinated by Mr Stjepan Tannic, Farming System Development Officer, FAO
  • Education and Distance Learning - coordinated by Mr Cosmin Salasan, USAMVB Timisoara, Romania

Community in practice and bottom-up approach
A new initiative of AgroWeb is the promotion of the network at the sub-national level and creating a platform for communication between farmers bringing new opportunities for effective information flow in a bottom-up direction. The strong involvement of farmers and their relatives in networking activities is an essential component for achieving “the positive change” in rural livelihoods and supporting the promotion of the principles of sustainable agriculture. This approach is also being implemented in the development of special thematic networks (communities) such as “Animal Genetic Recourses”, “Veterinary Medicine”, “Education and Distance Learning”, etc., which leads to the creation of a real “Community in Practice”. Moreover, the involvement of local stakeholders in the networking activities gives them an opportunity to be heard at decision making levels at local, national and regional levels, as in almost all participating countries decision makers (mainly Ministries for Agriculture) are strongly involved in AgroWeb activities.

AgroWeb Network in Central Asia and Caucasus
Currently, the AgroWeb CAC Network consists of national portals in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and representatives from Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have expressed their willingness to develop their National AgroWeb Portals (NAWP). Future network developments in the region include: the integration of various agriculture related databases, launching the appropriate search mechanisms amongst NAWPs, and the development of the Russian version of the AgroWeb Regional Portal which will serve as a common language platform. It is proposed that a further initiative the establishment of AgroWeb portals at intra-national level ( will be implemented in other countries.

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.

Arman Manukyan
Coordinator, AgroWeb Network
Web: <>

AgroWeb Portals 

Figure 3. National AgroWeb portals

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Forestry library centenary at Oxford
by Roger Mills


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!

Roger Mills
Manager, Oxford Forest Information Service, Plant Sciences Library, Oxford, UK


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INASP Symposium: Investing in Scientific Knowledge: Strategies and Models for the Developing World
Oxford, 5 November 2004

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: < >

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Electronic Library Information Navigator (ELIN@)
INASP has linked up with Lund University Libraries, Sweden, to adapt and extend the existing Electronic Library Information Navigator (ELIN@) system so that it can be used by universities and research institutes in developing countries. ELIN@ facilitates end user access to electronic information resources and offers library staff easy administration tools to manage this electronic content. The current ELIN@ application is being adapted and optimised for (s)lower bandwidth environments for use in Africa and Asia.

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 <>

Globalization of Information: Agriculture at the Crossroads
Between 13 and 18 May 2005, the World Congress of the International Association of Agricultural Information Specialists (IAALD) will be held in the USA. More than 300 information and communication managers from around the world will meet at the University of Kentucky to share ideas and experiences. Sessions will include: The Role of the Organization in the Digital Age, Building Digital Library Collections and Services for Libraries in the Developing World. Full details are available on the Internet at: <>

Using Google for African Studies Research: a guide to effective web searching is now freely accessible at <>. It is published as an adjunct to the new third edition of The African Studies Companion: A Guide to Information Sources (online at <>) 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.
Hans Zell Publishing, Scotland UK
Web: <>

We would like to thank Ard Jongsma who has been the editor and designer of the INASP newsletter since it was launched in 1993 but is now stepping down: we greatly appreciate all he has done, and will miss his input.

The Science and Development Network (SciDev.Net) has just launched two new dossiers ( 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:

  • The role of universities in the production and distribution of knowledge - Judith Sutz, University of Montevideo, Uruguay
  • Developing state capacities to formulate and implement science, technology and innovation policies - Joachim Ahrens, European Business School, Germany
  • Eliminating poverty: what role for technology transfer? - Priyanthi Fernando, International Forum for Rural Transport and Development; Paul Starkey, University of Reading, UK
  • Technology transfer between Southern nations - Isa Daudpota, Comstech Centre for Frontier Technologies, Islamabad, Pakistan
  • International scientific and technological collaborations - Geoff Oldham, Science and Technology Policy Research Unit, UK
  • The innovation system approach and policy making in the developing world - Eva Danatas, Science and Technology Policy Research Unit, UK Further policy briefs, interviews and news will be added in the next couple of months. If you’d like to contribute, ideas and comments are very welcome (contact: ).
    To keep informed register for the weekly email alert:

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    AgInfoUpdate Ghana
    On 29 October 2004, agricultural information specialists and managers from Ghana’s leading institutes met at the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information (INSTI) in Accra. Sponsored by CSIR-INSTI, FAO, GINKS, IAALD and INASP, the one-day networking session focused on information and communication developments in agriculture and rural development in Ghana.

    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
    This initiative to provide free access to over 100,000 online books in all areas of science, is hosted by the Indian Institute of Science, Carnegie Mellon University and ERNET (India) for the Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Gov. of India, Ministry of Communication & Information Technology and 21 participating centres. Visit <> to find out more.

    ICT Update
    One of the best tools to stay up to date with the use and applications of ICTs in agriculture and rural development is to subscribe to the email ICT Update magazine of CTA. Produced every two months, each issue focuses on a specific theme. Recent themes have included fisheries, livestock, pest management, water, etc. As well as the four feature articles, the magazine points readers to relevant news and events, articles, other resources, and links to projects.

    Read the latest issue and sign up to the email version at: <>

    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 <>

    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.

    <> For further details of the above see <>

    Bandwidth management and optimisation training support - new programme
    INASP and a range of partners are currently developing a series of bandwidth optimisation and management training support activities. These will include training, materials development and knowledge sharing to address the need for bandwidth management, initially in African universities, and then with universities and research organisations in other regions of the world. Further details are available from:

    <> See also the free INASP report on maximising use of your available bandwidth <>

    The International Forestry Review is available free in 2005 from PERI. See: for details.

    Expanded INASP information systems training team
    INASP have recently engaged two associates to expand the capacity of the information systems training team. They will be working on a number of information systems and library related training and workshop programmes, including the design and development of new workshop materials and accompanying workshop series. Initially they will be working in the areas of library promotion and marketing and monitoring and evaluation of ICTs within a library environment.

  • 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
      Website: <
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