TWENTY-SIXTH FAO REGIONAL CONFERENCE
Kathmandu, Nepal, 13 – 17 May 2002
INFORMATION ON WORLD AGRICULTURAL
INFORMATION CENTRE (WAICENT)
I. BACKGROUND INFORMATION
II. WAICENT OUTREACH PROGRAMME – CAPACITY BUILDING
FOR AGRICULTURE AND FOOD INFORMATION
III. INTERGOVERNMENTAL FORUM
IV. FUTURE PERSPECTIVES
I. BACKGROUND INFORMATION
1. The Plan of Action of the World Food Summit (WFS) that was held in Rome in 1996, highlighted information as one of the priority areas in achieving food security. In accordance with this recommendation, FAO has established the World Agricultural Information Centre (WAICENT) as its strategic programme for agricultural information management and dissemination.
2. At the one hundredth and twentieth session of the FAO Council in June 2001, the Committee on Agriculture supported the continued development of WAICENT as an integrated information system in all FAO languages, including the use of fast-changing technologies for the benefit of member countries.
3. The WAICENT programme on information management and dissemination enables member nations to access agricultural information that is essential for achieving food security and sustainable rural development.
4. WAICENT plays the following three key roles in the Organisation:
5. The present paper focuses on the latter two roles, with particular emphasis on Asia and the Pacific.
II. WAICENT OUTREACH PROGRAMME – CAPACITY BUILDING FOR AGRICULTURE AND FOOD INFORMATION
6. The aim of the Outreach Programme is to enhance the ability of individuals and communities in member countries to improve the efficiency, quality, and relevance of information and knowledge exchange among the various stakeholder groups involved in agricultural development and food security, with focus on the most vulnerable and deprived groups. This programme includes technical assistance to national and regional information centres, and cooperation with countries in Asia and the Pacific through the decentralized Information Management Specialist post recently established in the Regional Office in Bangkok.
7. The programme of activity is divided into two parts, namely, a proactive programme that focuses on particular priority areas and geographic units, and a reactive component designed to respond to specific requests from member countries and international partners.
8. The following activities were carried out in Asia and the Pacific during the 2000 to 2001 biennium:
(a) Strategic programmes
Under the "Information Management Component of the Japanese Trust Fund on SPFS" (GCP/RAS/182/JPN), technical backstopping on information-related issues was provided by the Information Management Specialist on a mission to Lao PDR in preparation for baseline and PRA surveys. The process for developing an information exchange system began, including "best practices" developments that may come from the South-South component of the SPFS project. The assessment of potential for a multi-lingual information system is ongoing. Similar missions to Indonesia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will follow to ensure that an integrated approach is developed and the four countries benefit from a shared knowledge network.
The WAICENT Information Management Specialist participated in an exploratory mission to Lao PDR and India to consider a regional project proposal for the support of national FIVIMS initiatives. WAICENT staff supported the release of KIMS v.1.0, a tool used in the visualization of data essential to FIVIMS, though demonstrations to member countries. The Information Management Specialist during various missions provided ad-hoc support to FIVIMS data management and the use of KIMS.
FAO and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) have undertaken a six-month preparatory phase, which should result in a final project memorandum for this strategic programme. Field missions were carried out to countries that have been selected for possible implementation of the programme, with one country, India, selected from Asia and the Pacific. The WAICENT Outreach Programme (GILF) and the Communication for Development Group (SDRE) are the joint coordinating units in FAO for this programme.
WAICENT strengthened co-operation with other organizations working on agricultural research information systems. In particular, the Information Management Specialist worked in collaboration with the Asia Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI) and developed a proposal for the Asia Pacific Agricultural Research Information System (APARIS). The APARIS proposal was delivered to the APAARI executive committee and, upon receiving approval in principle, plans for step-wise development of APARIS were made. Input was also sought from potential donor organizations.
WAICENT developed a new "International Information System for Agricultural Sciences and Technology" (AGRIS) model, with ongoing beta testing by key partners in member countries in Asia. The regional Information Management Specialist has increased support to AGRIS centres and initiated the preparation of training under the new model to be released. Agrovoc, the agricultural thesaurus, is being extended with the addition of languages from Asia and the Pacific region, including Chinese, Japanese, and Thai, and there are ongoing discussions to add other languages.
An agreement was finalized with the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Regional Centre for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEAMEO SEARCA) to collaborate on information management capacity building for countries in the ASEAN region. A training workshop on electronic document management is being developed as the first programme under this collaboration. This workshop will also provide the first opportunity in the region for introducing the new AGRIS model to key national and regional facilitators in information management capacity building. The collaboration of APAARI through the APARIS initiative has also been secured, thus allowing this workshop to further its impact in offering a new information management tool to agricultural research institutions in the region.
The Information Management Specialist participated in two consultations organized by the Improvement of Agricultural Statistics in Asia and Pacific Countries project (GCP/RAS/171/JPN) to review a proposal on the establishment of a data exchange system for food and agricultural statistics in the Asia and Pacific region.
A WAICENT mirroring project for internet-based information systems is being established in Japan. It will provide additional access and increase speed for users of online resources in Asia and the Pacific.
(b) Ad-hoc requests from Governments
9. In addition to the above strategic activities, WAICENT was also active in assistance with national information management capacity development. These activities focused on China in particular, due to the country’s size and importance in the region. A memorandum of cooperation has been developed with China’s Ministry of Agriculture. It includes project components for assistance in the development of a rural agricultural information system. This is in addition to the formulation of a proposal for a national FIVIMS project, and collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences on a Chinese language agricultural thesaurus.
10. Discussions were also initiated with Indonesia on potential projects for national capacity building. Advisory missions and training support to national and regional organizations included participation in a meeting on strategic issues in ICT development at the International Conference on the Development of Agricultural Information Management (China), and a regional strategy and development workshop on land management software as part of the Landman project (Thailand).
III. Inter-governmental Forum
11. The biennial Consultation on Agricultural Information Management (COAIM) is a major inter-governmental forum that reports to the governing bodies of FAO. The first COAIM was held in Rome in June 2000, with the participation of 161 representatives from 91 member nations of FAO, including twelve countries from Asia and the Pacific. The general aims of COAIM are to bring policy issues related to management and access to agricultural information to the attention of the inter-governmental process, and to establish a global framework for the normative work of WAICENT. A web page was created to facilitate access to official documents of the meeting (http://www.fao.org/coaim).
12. The second Consultation on Agricultural Information Management is scheduled to be held in Rome from 23 to 25 September 2002, as a means of setting priorities at a regional and national level, including those of Asia and the Pacific region.
IV. Future Perspectives
13. For the next biennium (2002-2003), WAICENT Outreach will focus on developing and implementing pilot information and knowledge exchange systems in Asia and the Pacific, as well as rolling out national implementation phases of some major initiatives in information management.
14. The principal objectives will be:
15. The agricultural information systems to be addressed fall into three main categories. WAICENT and its partners already have some conceptual models and established systems within them, and these will be given special emphasis. In many cases, they will be undertaken on the basis of the following important internal partnerships with FAO units:
16. Furthermore, WAICENT and its collaborators and partners will continue with the development of the information management Resource Kit, a unique e-learning initiative providing users worldwide with the essential skills, knowledge base and tools needed for effective information management in agriculture.
(a) Geographic Emphasis
17. WAICENT Outreach will focus on specific countries in Asia and the Pacific for pilot tests of its programme. The international programmes such as FIVIMS, SPFS and AGRIS will be established on a national basis, but coordinated through the appropriate secretariats and/or processes.
(b) Partnerships and Coordination
18. Efforts will be made in the region to bring together the major potential international, regional and sub-regional partners to form informal consortia to backstop capacity building activities. Partnerships will also be sought with the major international development agencies (e.g. UNDP, Asian Development Bank) where appropriate, and specialist agencies in agricultural information. An inter-agency advisory group will be created with the objective of orienting the programmed decisions of FAO on food and agricultural information management and dissemination. The proposed mechanism of coordination will be discussed, revised and eventually approved during the second COAIM to be held in Rome in September 2002. COAIM will be the major vehicle for promoting co-ordination and partnership building, and a regional thread will be built up for Asia and the Pacific with its own events and consultations that will lead from and build up to each COAIM event.
19. The headquarters staff of WAICENT Outreach (GILF) is responsible for developing the major thrusts of activity in Asia and the Pacific. The Information Management Specialist based in the Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific will be involved directly with work in the region. The DFID trust fund will be used to support work in India that addresses some of the above priorities. It is expected that other funds will be forthcoming, in particular, from FIVIMS and SPFS.