Virtual conferencing by email: FAO emailing lists

Experts in FAO's Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES) have added a new weapon to their campaign against livestock diseases - an email list intended to keep their colleagues around the world informed and involved. Subscribers to the EMPRES-Livestock list will receive the EMPRES Bulletin and other official reports, and be able to take part in discussion about EMPRES priority diseases, with particular focus on rinderpest and the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP).

Virtual conferencing puts people in touch around the world

The EMPRES list, launched in late June, joined more than 30 other virtual conferences created by FAO in order to allow people with common interests to exchange ideas without being restricted by time limits or travel costs. FAO email lists cover a range of subjects - from agrometereology to management of water scarcity. "Recently, it's really taken off," said FAO's Email Manager, John Rowell. "In the last three months I've been setting up about one list a week".

Some lists are simply the electronic version of mailing lists, with journals and publications being sent to members. Others are discussion groups, which may be open to everyone, or with controlled membership. The EMPRES list is open to anyone wishing to subscribe and messages are filtered by a moderator.

FAO commodity specialist, Michael Griffin, who set up the Dairy Bulletin email list, chose to neither control membership, nor moderate messages. Dairy Bulletin is one of the most active of the FAO electronic discussion groups, with more than 300 members who exchange about ten messages a week. "It's put me in touch with people I would never have come across", Griffin said. "It's much better than an international conference and it's freely available to everyone."

Answering the frequent criticism that electronic discussion groups disadvantage the developing countries, Griffin said "messages sent via the Dairy Bulletin service have come in approximate proportions of 40 percent from developing countries (with a heavy emphasis from South America) and 60 percent from developed countries (mainly North America and Europe)." He went on to say that, in his personal experience, "many organizations in developing countries are better equipped to receive electronic information than their counterpart organizations in developed countries."

One topic that recently attracted a lot of attention was the market price of milk, as compared to colas and fruit juices. The original question, posed by a member of the Dairy Bulletin list in South Africa, received replies from Uruguay, Peru, the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Kenya, India and Australia.

8 July 1997

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