Q&A: Information management for agricultural development

Jean-François Giovannetti

Jean-François Giovannetti argues that more effective information sharing and knowledge management are essential for agricultural and rural development.

Dr Giovannetti, since the early 1990s you have played a pioneering role in various initiatives to use ICTs to make agricultural information more accessible to farmers and researchers in ACP countries. Can you briefly describe some of the most successful initiatives?

For farmers, perhaps the most innovative initiative is the Rural Universe Network (RUN), which is led by our colleagues at the German Centre for
Agricultural Documentation and Information (ZADI) and supported by CTA (See the article Q&A service for farmers in ACP countries in this issue.

RUN is a question and answer service, although the way it is set up, RUN goes further than that. As it recruits local experts to address the farmers’ questions, and publishes all questions and answers on a single website, the project is effectively mobilizing local knowledge and skills. At present RUN covers mainly francophone countries, but the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) is keen to facilitate the ‘scaling out’ of the network, and to replicate its methodology elsewhere. Already, an Arabic version of RUN is being discussed. For researchers, I would like to mention the Scientific and Technical Information System (SIST) project funded by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. SIST aims to establish national portals for scientific and technical information in 12 African countries: Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Madagascar, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia. It is noteworthy that the project is hosted by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) in Accra, Ghana, underscoring the key role of agriculture in African development.

Much agricultural information, in particular research output, is published in English or French, and is written in formal language that is accessible only to the scientific community. How is GFAR addressing this issue?

GFAR is trying to shift away from a top-down approach to agricultural extension, in which farmers are merely the end-users of research, towards a
concept of innovation where multiple stakeholders, including farmers participate in research activities. Therefore, if all stakeholders are involved from the beginning, the ‘internalization’ of the research output is no longer a limiting factor. An example of a project facilitated by GFAR that is fully in line with this approach is Prolinnova, a global initiative to promote local people's innovation in ecologically oriented agriculture and natural resources management.
Another concern is that the dissemination of agricultural information is managed more effectively. At GFAR we are giving a lot of attention to this issue. Our last inter-regional consultation in Rome, in June 2004, led to a proposal for a framework for action, entitled the Global
Partnership Project on Information and Communication Management for Agricultural Research for D... (ICM4ARD). This proposal lists a number of priority actions, including efforts to strengthen the capacity of all stakeholders, from producers to end-users, to create, manage and share agricultural information.

In your view, how can CTA enhance the use of ICTs to improve access to agrigutural information among its ACP partners?

This is obviously a relevant question for the new CTA Director. I believe that, with its modest resources, CTA's agenda should focus on capacity building among ACP stakeholders, as it would be difficult for CTA to play a significant role in the formulation of ICT policy at the global, regional or national level.
Another key element in the CTA agenda is advocacy, particularly in efforts to enable national agricultural research systems (NARS) in ACP countries to play a more proactive role in the development of their own ICT enabled agricultural information systems. This ties in with the approach taken by GFAR. Indeed, in cooperation with the regional forums and the NARS, GFAR has suggested some concrete activities aimed at meeting these objectives in the ICM4ARD proposal.

 

Dr Jean-François Giovannetti is Senior Officer of the Secretariat of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR).

28 April 2005

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