For more than 24 years, Thailand’s affiliate of the AGRIS has been collecting and recording agriculture data and experiences from around the country to feed into the international network. Its database serves as a popular resource for agricultural education, research and development and as a mechanism for exchanging information with other AGRIS centres worldwide. This collaboration allows the international community to benefit from Thai agricultural information while giving the Thai agricultural community access to valuable insights from far and wide.
Until 1995, all FAO member countries sent information to the AGRIS processing unit (APU) at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna where it was processed and printed for distribution. With the advances in communications technology in the 1990s, the APU began distributing all data online. Other services to member countries include the selective dissemination of information (SDI) publication, the AGRIS CD-ROM and AGRINDEX. Since 1995, the AGRIS secretariat at FAO headquarters in Rome has coordinated all AGRIS activities.
To initiate the Thai AGRIS Centre in 1974, FAO officials approached Bangkok’s Kasetsart University, then recognized as the best national agricultural university and which already had a strong library. However, the library lacked staff with professional skills in documentation that was required by AGRIS procedures. While staff members improved their capabilities, FAO worked with the Thai National Documentation Centre of the Scientific and Technological Institute, which had trained specialists, to begin developing the Thai AGRIS Centre and to operate it until the Kasetsart library was ready to take over. For five years, the two facilities closely collaborated until Kasetsart took operating control.
The Thai AGRIS Centre officially opened at Kasetsart in 1980 with a five-year operating budget financed by IDRC. Since 1985, the Thai Government along with library income have supported the centre’s operations and the salaries of information scientists.
Functions of the AGRIS Centre
The main activities of the AGRIS Centre:
Collect and manage agricultural and other relevant information that has been produced or published within country.
Provide information services on both published and unpublished literature produced in country.
Promote agricultural information utilization.
Carry out research on agricultural information development.
Specific activities of the Thai AGRIS Centre focus on:
Collecting and producing agricultural information. The Thai Agricultural Bibliography (1980–1991) is a major output publication that is distributed nationwide.
Building the Thai agricultural database (1980-present). Data recording is done in English and sent to the central AGRIS database while a Thai version is produced and managed for Thai users. This is available at http://thaiagris.lib.ku.ac.th/.
Coordinating and partnering with AGRIS/FAO. Currently, the centre acts as a focal point for collecting and developing agricultural information in Thailand. Figure 1 shows Thailand’s contribution to the international AGRIS network since 1975.
Figure 1: Thai AGRIS data entry, 1975–2004
Providing agricultural information from abroad. The centre allows Thai users access to international agricultural information in its central AGRIS database. This is available in the form of the AGRINDEX, AGRIS CD-ROM, AGRIS Online and SDI. Thai users, both general and academic, gain substantial benefit from the fast and convenient accessibility, as Figure 2 suggests.
Figure 2: Intensity of AGRIS CD-ROM utilization at the AGRIS Centre, 1998–2001
Expanding the agricultural information network within the country. However, despite much effort there have not been any satisfactory results due to limited resources, particularly in terms of personnel and finance in most of the cooperating centres. Recent developments are encouraging, such as network discussion forums and policies to enable sharing of resources.
Supporting other agricultural information systems in Thailand. The centre provides assistance in the form of consultations and training programmes for users.
Conducting training workshops. The centre organizes training sessions for librarians and information scientists from various institutes in Thailand.
History of Thai AGRIS database development
In 1980, the centre used methodologies recommended by the AGRIS secretariat. Initially, information gathered in Thailand was typed onto an input sheet and delivered by mail in print form to the Agricultural Information Bank of Asia (AIBA) in the Philippines, which was working as a regional centre. That information then was entered into a database and sent to the AGRIS processing unit in Vienna.
The Thai centre acquired its first computer in 1981 with the support from the IDRC of Canada. In accordance with AGRIS requirements, data entry into the Thai AGRIS database was done using Dbase III Plus, in English. As computer technology progressed, the AGRIS system changed. In 1986 data were sent from Thailand to AIBA by diskette and then directly to the AGRIS processing unit, beginning in 1992.
In mid-1994 the Kasetsart University library developed a network system with links to the Internet. However, it was not until 1998 that the AGRIS processing unit started accepting data and information via email and FTP from participating AGRIS centres.
From the beginning it was apparent that most Thai users could not benefit from the AGRIS data because of the language barrier. Thus the centre began processing the information in Thai as well as English. The Kasetsart library collaborated with the university’s computer centre to develop a Thai agriculture bibliographic database system. Data recording in Thai language started in 1982, though it included data from the previous two years (1980–1981).
The Thai database was processed every two months and published in the Thai agricultural bibliography. This document was distributed to members and agricultural agency libraries around the country up to 1991 when the high cost of printing and delivery forced the publication to cease operation. It has since been replaced with an online database and CD-ROM.
In 1987 the Thai AGRIS database application at the Kasetsart library changed from Dbase III Plus to Micro CDS/ISIS version 1.0, which the AGRIS secretariat distributed. The secretariat also supported training at SEARCA in the Philippines. Currently the centre is using the WebAGRIS version, which uses Internet-based technology. The Thai Agriculture Bibliographic database, recorded at the Kasetsart computer centre since 1982, was moved to the main library and changed to Micro CDS/ISIS. The two databases are thus maintained separately, with English and Thai on CDS/ISIS.
By 1996 it became apparent that managing the two databases in English and in Thai was impractical and costly, and users were not able to utilize them simultaneously.
A study of the AGRIS database revealed that the structure did not support two languages. To resolve the problem, the database structure was modified by duplicating the Thai field into it for internal use only, though still adhering to the AGRIS standard. The fields and format for data recording were adjusted to support information in Thai. Once the structure could support both languages, all Thai data were transferred into what became known as the Thai Agricultural Database. Recording data in two languages in one file began in 1997.
Development of information services at AGRIS
As previously mentioned, AGRIS makes available various types of agriculture information that is both Thai-based and from other countries through the AGRINDEX, AGRIASIA, the Thai Agricultural Bibliography and other resources. In addition, AGLINET, the network of data from all AGRIS centres, provides material to online users through the SDI and full-text information services.
The first retrieval of information in electronic format from the AGRIS processing unit in Vienna began in 1983. This was done online via satellite access to the international database and remote computing service. However, the service then was very costly so the APU provided the offline SDI service. Students and agricultural researchers could request information through the Thai AGRIS Centre and the search results were delivered monthly.
By 1986 the Thai AGRIS Centre was able to link directly to the AGRIS online service in Vienna using modem and satellite connection. This made it possible for users to access the central database, and demand for the service was great. AGRIS provided the service for free, although Thai users had to pay a communication service fee charged by the Communication Authority of Thailand.
Since that time, the online data retrieval service has continually evolved. By 1991 users were able to search for information on the AGRIS CD-ROMs that were made available on a stand-alone computer at the centre. Six years later, the centre provided services within the library network, which had expanded to include the university network (KU CD-NET). The system allowed users to search, download and print data. In 1999 the AGRIS central database became available via the Internet and data now can be accessed through the Internet without any charge at http:// www.fao.org/agris/. This information is more up to date than on the CD-ROMs.
The Thai language agricultural information service started in 1992 and users could access it on a stand-alone computer. However, the search program was too complicated and only a few computers were available. The library improved the service in 1995 by installing a local area network. At the same time the Thai AGRIS Centre modified the CIAT search interface to be more user-friendly. This program provided a search and retrieval service and displayed results based on the CDS/ISIS system in Thai. Users promptly gave encouraging feedback and as a result, in 2000, the centre developed a homepage and installed the Web ISIS program to provide the database service through the Internet (at http://thaiagris.lib.ku.ac.th).
An ensuing survey among the users indicated the services were quite valuable because the AGRIS information was accessible for free.
International cooperation and knowledge management projects
The success of the Thai AGRIS as an agricultural resource and knowledge centre is attributed primarily to three factors: first, the perseverance and devotion of the centre’s staff; second, the assistance from AGRIS/FAO; and third, Kasetsart management in providing help and facilities.
In addition, the collaborative inputs from various sources, as the following describes, have added value to the service:
The Kasetsart library provided the AGRIS Centre with a scanner in 2001 so that printed documents could be input in digital format instead of on microfiche through the agricultural information project. Within that project there is a plan to convert microfiche documents dating from 1980 to 2000 to electronic format. The Kasetsart library also is supporting another staff member for the document scanning.
AGRIS began in 2001 a five-year project to develop a Thai agriculture thesaurus with funding under the programme of Development of agricultural information system for knowledge acquisition and dissemination. Many agencies are involved in this collaboration, including the Kasetsart Research and Development Institute and the NAiST laboratory (a specialty unit of the Natural Language Processing and Intelligent Information System Technology program in the Kasetsart faculty of engineering), along with technical assistance from the AGRIS secretariat.
The thesaurus provides a standard for indexing Thai agriculture information and collects Thai agriculture vocabulary. This process links the Thai agricultural ontology2 to the development of automatic machine translation.
The implementation of the thesaurus project (see Chapter 4 for details) signified a new direction toward research and development work for the Thai AGRIS and a leap for the integration of information centre activities with the two research institutions, which ultimately will strengthen the centre’s capabilities.
In celebration of its 20th anniversary, the Thai AGRIS Centre organized a conference on information technology for agriculture (6–7 July 2000) with key representatives of agricultural agencies from around the world attending. Discussions focused on cutting-edge technology and agricultural information systems, accompanied with numerous brain-storming sessions. That conference resulted in the development of the Thai Agricultural Information Network.
Technical assistance from the AGRIS secretariat also enabled the Thai AGRIS Centre to develop in 2003 the Thai WebAGRIS multilingual program for data recording and retrieval (see Chapter 8 for details).
2 An ontology is a model of organized knowledge in a given domain (e.g. fisheries) consisting of components called concepts, attributes, relations and instances. For more information see http://www.fao.org/aims.