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I. Background

1. The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) extended an invitation to the Second Consultation on Agricultural Information Management (COAIM) in his circular letter (Ref. G/GIL-804) dated 3 June, 2002 addressed to all the Member States of FAO, and to international organisations and regional and subregional institutions.

2. The general aims of the COAIM are to bring policy issues related to the management of, and access to, agricultural information to the attention of the inter-governmental process, and to establish a global framework for the normative work of the World Agricultural Information Centre, WAICENT, recognising the key role that information and knowledge play in ensuring food security and sustainable development, and thereby meeting the objectives of the World Food Summit Plan of Action.

3. During the First Consultation on Agricultural Information Management, held in Rome, Italy from 5 to 7 June, 2000 it was agreed to place a high priority on improving Member States and other stakeholders´ access to agricultural information through WAICENT, taking full advantage of the opportunities provided by the new generation of information and communication technologies.

4. The Second Consultation on Agricultural Information Management took place in an international policy context in which multilateral agreements on information and communication technologies complemented FAO´s efforts to address Member States needs and strategies on agricultural information management and as a means to promote food security and sustainable development.

5. In the previous context, the First Consultation on Agricultural Information Management established the dates and the substantive elements of the agenda for the Second Consultation meeting, as well as the following objectives:

II. Participation

6. All FAO Member States, regional and subregional intergovernmental organisations, agencies of the United Nations system and non-governmental organisations were invited. The meeting was attended by 142 governmental representatives of 75 Member States, as well as seven representatives of five United Nations organizations and specialized agencies, and 41 representatives of 19 national and international organisations, as well as six representatives of six non-governmental organisations. A list of participants is included in Annex III of this document.

III. Agenda Item 1: Opening of the Meeting

7. The opening ceremony took place on 23 September, 2002. The Consultation was opened by Ms. Carleen Gardner, Assistant Director-General of the General Affairs and Information Department on behalf of the Director-General of FAO. In welcoming the participants Ms. Gardner expressed her pleasure in opening this Second COAIM.

8. Ms. Gardner emphasised that since the last COAIM, the world has experienced many significant developments in technology, as well as in other areas of human endeavour. It is necessary to address the needs of our Members, to remove all obstacles so that FAO Members are fully able to "scan globally and re-invent locally" the means to achieve food security in the shortest possible time. Also in order to better assist Members "scan globally for information and knowledge about science and technology", the agricultural information managers will have to set priorities about what kind of information to tackle first.

9. Also, Ms. Gardner mentioned that setting priorities is always difficult and everyone has a different view of what information is most useful for achieving food security. But all agree that in this globalised economic environment, access to world-wide information is absolutely essential if countries are to be able to engage in any kind of meaningful development process.

10. Ms. Gardner closed her address expressing her hope that Member States would consider with a sense of urgency some of these challenges during the three days of the Consultation. She was confident that they would provide valuable guidance to the Secretariat for its work in the coming years.

11. Ms. Gardner then gave the floor to Mr. Carlos Braga, Director of the Development Gateway Foundation, who explained the different activities developed to promote a better access of information and in particular those related with food security. Ms. Julianne Lee, Senior Programme Officer of the World Economic Forum stressed the importance to promote and enable improved co-ordination between agencies and governments and the need to strengthen the activities developed by the private sector according to the users´needs on agricultural information. Mr. Peter Armstrong, Director of One World International, emphasised the major importance of locally-derived content and the adoption and use of standards and guidelines to facilitate access to information.

IV. Agenda Item 2: Organisation of the Meeting

a) Election of officers

12. Mr. Anthony Devlin, Alternate Permanent Representative of Ireland, was elected as Chairperson of the meeting; Mr. Walter Ruiz Valverde, Vice-Minister of Agriculture and Livestock from Costa Rica and Mr. Yamoussa Fofana, Director of the National Service of Agricultural Statistics of the Ministry of Agriculture of Guinea as Vice-Chairpersons; and Mr. Essam Zawia, Alternate Permanent Representative of Libya to FAO as Rapporteur. Mr. Francisco Perez-Trejo, FAO/WAICENT Manager, acted as Secretary of the Consultation.

b) Approval of the agenda and programme of the meeting

13. The Provisional Agenda (FAO/COAIM-2/1) and the Provisional Annotated Agenda (FAO/COAIM-2/2) were approved without amendments.

V. Agenda item 3: Programming issues

 Report of the Secretariat

14. Under this agenda item, the Secretariat presented a brief report on the document FAO/COAIM-2/3 summarising the fulfilment of the recommendations of the First Consultation on Agricultural Information Management (Rome, Italy 5 to 7 June, 2000) developed by the different departments of FAO. Major activities implemented were related to improving access to information management; promoting collaboration with other UN agencies and international organisations; creating improved global standards for the exchange of information; strengthening Member States´ capacities to use, store, disseminate and distribute agricultural information useful for decision-making; and collaborating closely with stakeholders in order to strengthen their information management capacities, taking full advantage of the opportunities provided by the new generation of ICTs (information and communication technologies).

15. The delegates commended FAO for the significant improvements in the dissemination of the Organization´s information, and emphasized the Member States´ needs for FAO´s progressive work on specific topics, according to the priority activities to be developed over the next two years.

16. The delegates also stressed the need for a full and fair implementation of the language policy on the FAO Web site, and the importance of strengthening the existing national agricultural information centres to provide updated information to key stakeholders, including local communities on market information, early warning and post-harvest information management.

17. The Consultation also noted the importance of avoiding duplication of efforts and recognised the role of WAICENT in collecting, managing and disseminating the Organization´s information essential for decision-making, and the need to strengthen its capacities.

18. Emphasis was placed on the information needs of rural women and the strengthening of national institutions responsible for agricultural information management.

Improving Access to Agricultural Information

19. The Secretariat emphasised the progress made in the Organization´s capacity to manage information and knowledge, ensuring their wide and timely dissemination, and presented a detailed report of the activities developed to address the recommendations resulting from the last Consultation.

20. However, the Consultation noted the importance of developing indicators of impact of information in promoting food security and sustainable development in local communities. This evaluation system should include an analysis of the different users and their information needs.

21. In addition, emphasis should be given to strengthening local and national institutions, in improving access to agricultural information. Within the new scope of information needs, the development of policy formulation and the evaluation of information systems should be considered, including the development of local knowledge systems.

Strengthening Partnerships and Alliances

22. Under this agenda item, the Chairperson gave the floor to Mr. John Rose, Senior Programme Specialist of the Information Society Division, UNESCO and Mr. Felipe P. Manteiga, Director for Strategic Partnerships, IICA who explained the importance to strengthen inter-agency co-operation in order to promote effective collaboration in capacity-building efforts with Member States and in particular a better use of information and communication technologies.

23. Afterwards, the Secretariat presented a summary of the activities developed to promote partnerships with a view to securing complementarity and coherent strategies and programmes among FAO units and with governments, UN agencies, international organisations and private and civil society on the documents FAO/COAIM-2/Inf.4 and FAO/COAIM-2/Inf.5 in order to ensure synergy of efforts in achieving the goals of food security and sustainable development.

24. The Consultation supported the suggested co-operation mechanisms and requested FAO to promote the establishment of similar efforts at national and regional levels. Also, delegates requested FAO to work closely with other international initiatives (in particular the World Summit on Information Society, WSIS) related to information and communication technologies to promote synergies and ensure that food security and sustainable development issues be included in their agenda.

25. Some delegations noted the importance of improving the activities developed by FAO at regional level and of providing technical support in the development and/or strengthening of national agricultural information centres.

Capacity Building in Agriculture and Food Information Management

26. The Secretariat introduced the section of the Report of the Secretariat (FAO/COAIM-2/3) referring to capacity building. FAO´s support to capacity building in Member States had been considered after the first COAIM, and a strategy included in the Medium Term Plan of the Organization in the form of WAICENT Outreach. Within this area of activity, other recommendations of the first COAIM had been taken into consideration in the development of the Information Management Resource Kit. The Secretariat then described work undertaken in the field programme, and in relation to training courses, workshops, and the provision of technical assistance to Members. The key role of consortia in providing support to capacity building efforts was described, together with some illustrative examples of programmes of collaboration at national and regional levels.

27. Delegates commended FAO for the extensive programme of work undertaken since the first COAIM, and noted that the initiatives and projects described in the paper represented only a part of FAO´s overall programme of work. Delegates noted that the Organization was addressing Members´ needs in all regions of the developing world and countries with economies in transition, but stressed the importance of improving methods and processes for recognising and developing an understanding of the needs of the various groups of stakeholders at national and sub-national level. The Consultation recognised the potential value of sharing expertise and experience between Members, and highlighted FAO´s normative role in this context in mediating such exchanges.

28. The Consultation recognised the work in progress to decentralise many of the information management functions of FAO, such as data processing for FAOSTAT, and the associated need to strengthen the capabilities of Members to undertake their new roles. It was noted that guidance and follow-up would be required from the Organization on the new institutional arrangements, methodologies, and tools.

Harmonization and Standards

29. The Secretariat introduced the section of the Report of the Secretariat (FAO/COAIM-2/3) referring to Harmonization and Standards. The Secretariat presented a draft specification for an Agricultural Metadata Element Set (AgMES) providing a proposed set of metadata elements for describing resources in the domain of agriculture, based on the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative.

30. The Secretariat reiterated FAO´s firm commitment to maintain and further strengthen AGROVOC, and informed the Consultation that the Chinese and Arabic versions of AGROVOC were presently being finalised, and that other language versions are also being worked on. The Secretariat referred to the valuable information expertise and knowledge based on 25 years of experience with AGROVOC, and that this could be used as the building block for a new multilingual normative tool referred to as the Agricultural Ontology Service (AOS). The secretariat explained in detail how the AOS project will have a direct impact on the objective of improved language coverage.

31. The Secretariat then discussed the need to develop tools and information systems that are compliant with the proposed new standards. A number of these tools such as the FAO Information Finder, the Information finder developed with the CGIAR to access CG Centre information resources, and the FAO country profiles, and an XML “Information Bus” prototype using the new web-services technology were provided as examples.

32. The Consultation congratulated the Secretariat for its progress report in the area of Harmonization and Standards, and supported in principle the described activities. A number of inquiries were made, particularly regarding the location of the XML specifications and use of AGROVOC in the field, which the Secretariat clarified. The Secretariat also provided examples of tools adopting AGROVOC to assist in information retrieval.

VI. Agenda item 4: Programme of work

33. The Secretariat provided introductory remarks to the document by emphasising that it should be considered within the scope of the Strategic Framework and as already reflected in the Medium Term Plan 2002-2007 of FAO.

34. The Delegates recognised the Secretariat´s efforts in preparing the document and welcomed the efforts of the Organization in raising awareness and increasing the participation amongst Members in this area.

35. The Consultation pointed out the need for the Secretariat to clearly state how FAO would contribute to improving the capacities of decision-makers, professionals and the public at large in Member States to access and use agricultural information.

36. The Delegates expressed the need for FAO to have a coherent strategy for WAICENT in order to co-ordinate information activities across all technical divisions of the Organization and avoid duplication of efforts.

37. The Delegates also requested a more effective mechanism for providing inputs into the programme of work FAO in support of WAICENT, which would fit within the biennium budget formulation schedule of the Organization.

38. The Consultation emphasised the need for FAO to prioritise the strengthening of countries´ capacities to produce quality data and information in the programme of work of WAICENT.

39. Delegates highlighted the importance of considering regional priorities relating to WAICENT.

40. The Consultation requested the Secretariat to ensure that the conclusions and recommendations of the COAIM feed into the governance system and policy of the Organization.

VII. Agenda item 5: Other Matters

41. Under this agenda item, a summary was presented of the discussions held in the different side events convened by the Secretariat during the Consultation. The Consultation recognised the valuable information provided, and a summary of the discussions and conclusions resulting from the side events are included in Annex II of this report.

42. The delegates proposed that for the Third Consultation, the Secretariat should include in the agenda of the meeting the presentation of national activities on agricultural information management developed by Member States. Also, it was requested to convene an expert meeting to review mechanisms to strengthen FAOSTAT activities at national and regional level.

43. In the context of the language policy, the need was stressed for articulating an agricultural information management system with a full and fair language policy based on national and regional agricultural information systems and in co-ordination with other international organisations.

44. The Consultation agreed to hold the next Consultation on Agricultural Information Management in Rome, in June 2004.

VIII. Agenda item 6: Approval of Report of the Meeting

45. The Rapporteur submitted a draft of the Final Report of the Second Consultation on Agricultural Information Management to the Plenary. After incorporating the modifications deemed pertinent by various delegations, the report was approved by the Consultation, included the recommendations listed in Annex I of this report.

IX. Agenda item 7: Closure of the meeting

46. The meeting concluded its work at 18:00 hours on 25 September, 2002. Closing remarks were made by the Chairperson expressing gratitude to the participants and others involved in the Consultation before officially closing the Second Consultation on Agricultural Information Management.

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