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3. Networking and national cooperation

It is impossible for any single organization to comprehensively collect all the available agriculture information that exists in a country. It takes a network and cooperation of many organizations and agencies. An important factor that has sustained the AGRIS network is the mutual benefits all member countries enjoy from the central database. By contributing, each has access to a wealth of knowledge and experiences.

Cooperation is possible when organizations are aware of the benefits and added value they receive from working together. Key factors for the success of a network entail a shared vision, clearly defined roles and responsibilities for each contributor, mutual trust and good relationships among members of the network.

The Thai AGRIS Centre began with a mandate to create a network of agricultural agencies within Thailand and to organize training on bibliographic data collection and data input. However, the endeavour has been only partially successful due to the lack of human and financial resources. Improvements have taken place recently due to the cost of information and communications technology (ICT) falling substantially, and because more government agencies are aware of the need to capture and manage information and thus contributing support. As well, the Thai AGRIS Centre has become better equipped, enhancing the support it can give to its network members.

Advancements in information technology facilitate easier networking and allow for greater and more viable collaborations. It is no longer necessary to process data centrally; each member of a network can develop its own database rooted upon a common standard and then data can be linked, allowing for access within the distributed systems.

With the significant developments as well as the considerable reductions in ICT costs during the past decade, more AGRIS centres now can acquire equipment and process their own data in any chosen application (not just the recommended AGRIS tools). In Thailand, one of the advantages is that the processing of AGRIS data is no longer a burden to the national centre but is a shared responsibility of all the Thai network members. The issue now is for the Thai AGRIS network to increase its effort in researching and providing methodologies that support access of information in a distributed environment.

Toward that goal, FAO recently released a new AGRIS methodology that facilitates the exchange of information from distributed systems. The AGRIS application profile (AGRIS AP) is a format that uses well-accepted metadata standards and syntax to permit both inter-domain and intra-domain operability. It is a standard created specifically to enhance description, exchange and subsequent retrieval of agricultural document-like information objects. As a format to produce high-quality metadata, it allows for a platform-independent exchange of information about different types of agriculture resources.

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