Prioritise the strengthening of countries´ capacities to produce quality data and information in the programme of work of FAO in support of WAICENT;
Support the Livestock, Environment and Development (LEAD) initiative as a methodological framework for information management in research and development, and its implementation;
Develop tools and information systems that use the new web-services technology such as semantic and ontology development to enhance the search facility and make it more intelligent;
Present a report of the activities developed by the IAG during the next Consultation;
Work with Member States to establish national and regional WAICENT focal points, as appropriate for improved information exchange at national, regional and international levels;
Articulate and promote the development of national and regional priorities on agricultural information management;
- integrate cross cutting issues such as gender, information and communication, as well as ICTs into policies, and undertake concrete measures to set up appropriate infrastructures, applications and capacity building for sustainable models in order to produce, access, and share appropriate and relevant information with rural communities (men and women); and
- develop the following activities: production, adoption and dissemination of gender-disaggregated data (GDD), training materials and guidelines; creation of demand for GDD; development of a dissemination strategy; retabulation of existing data; and integration of a gender perspective in new data;
Improved household food security requires good decision making by rural women and men, for which better grassroots information availability is imperative. The importance of better information for rural dwellers was emphasised by participants at COAIM; and also by the World Food Summit and the new Rural Development Strategy of the World Bank. Rural communities information requirements are not limited to market prices and production technologies: they also need a wide variety of other information such as availability of agricultural support services, government regulations, crop plantings, disease outbreaks, adaptation of technologies by other farmers, wages rates, and so on. The content of the information services needs to reflect their diverse circumstances and livelihoods (i.e., their farming systems), from coastal artisanal fisherfolk to Sahelian agro-pastoralists.
Furthermore, measures to improve information availability (i.e., to strengthen the local information systems) need to take into account the diverse sources of information from friends and relatives, local traders, extension agents, news services, etc. Often marginal rural communities face widening information gaps and thus, without better information, find it difficult to compete as countries become more globalised. The key issues are (a) how national managers of agricultural information and rural development can identify broad farming systems across a nation with different identifiable information needs and (b) how government, private sector and civil society can cost effectively and sustainably improve local grassroots information systems, especially in remote areas.
In relation to the different information needs of producers, the FAO/World Bank Study on Farming Systems and Poverty defined 72 farming and livelihood systems across six developing regions (see www.fao.org/farmingsystems/) providing a broad framework for the identification of generic information needs of rural populations. However, national information managers may find it useful to disaggregate these broad zones for the purposes of national information management.
The Study also examined ways to achieve the Millenium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015. Of five common farm household strategies for halving poverty, the most important were on-farm diversification, including value-added activities, and off-farm income. The information requirements for diversification are much greater than for intensification of existing patterns of production. In December 2001, a workshop organised by the Agricultural Support Systems Division of FAO on improving information availability to farmers and entrepreneurs concluded that strengthening local community information systems was feasible, and a development priority.
The information and communication technology revolution has greatly increased the possibilities for disseminating and sharing knowledge. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has the mandate to "collect, analyse, interpret and disseminate information relating to nutrition, food and agriculture", as well as fisheries and forestry. Knowledge and information are essential for achieving global food security, which is a major goal for FAO. COAIM has also noted that modern information technologies should be complemented by traditional communication channels and techniques – improved communication and information networks in rural areas using multi-media communication tools can provide farmers with relevant and appropriate information that can positively impact their ability to achieve higher agricultural productivity. Information can be packaged and disseminated through local media, such as rural radio, in appropriate formats and languages to respond to farmers needs. At the same time multi-media networks can provide useful mechanisms for farmers´ feedback, facilitating bottom-up articulation of development needs and perceptions, and contributing with local content based on their knowledge of successful practices.
Mr. John Dixon, Senior Officer - Farm Management and Production Economics Service (AGSP) introduced the regional farming system frameworks of the FAO/World Bank Study and highlights of the AGS Workshop on the role of local information systems in improving household decision-making and the utilisation of agricultural services, and concluded with a number of potential priority action areas.
Mr. Riccardo del Castello, Communication Officer of the Extension, Education and Communication Service (SDRE), reported on a number of practical experiences on rural communication networks and multimedia approaches, in particular on the integration of ICTs and rural radio.
Participants recognised the importance of local information for improved household decision-making and livelihoods. After a plenary discussion on principal issues in improving information availability, two working groups were formed to identify priority actions to improve local information availability at local level and at higher level, including national level.
Participants identified the following principal issues that needed to be addressed:
Build new systems, or strengthen existing local systems?
Identify entry points to support information systems
Pilot local information systems in different situations and analyse effectiveness
Link local and national level systems
Document/replicate innovation/successes, and scale up local achievements
Who should be doing what for these systems?
How should these systems be managed? (Updating etc.)
Government policies to facilitate these kinds of systems. Facilitating the flow of information.
Intellectual property consideration issues.
Quality assurance of the system. How can the user be sure of the quality of the information? Is there any authority or should there be one?
How are community needs established? A social process rather than an external process.
Approximately 33 participants attended the side event. The Chairperson was Ms. Edith Hesse, Head, Information and Documentation, International Center for Tropical Agriculture and the Rapporteur was Mr. Rajesh Sood, database developer/information systems analyst, International Plant Genetic Resources Institute.
Participants made the following conclusions for priority actions.
At the local level:
At national and higher level:
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To increase communication and enhance the relevance of research and development issues regarding livestock-environment interactions, the Livestock, Environment and Development LEAD Initiative has established a Virtual Centre for Research and Development. This Virtual R&D Centre promotes multidisciplinary research and development activities, and increases awareness among key stakeholders of the complex interactions of human needs, animal production and the sustainability of global natural resources.
A virtual centre is similar to a traditional research and development centre in that it brings together scientists from different disciplines to address important research and development issues. The key difference is that a virtual centre relies on electronic communications technologies to help scientists and development workers plan and implement their collaborative efforts and share data, information, and knowledge. While there are, of course, many advantages to the traditional approach of bringing scientists to a central location so that they can interact both formally and informally, there are also distinct advantages associated with setting up a virtual centre, including:
LEAD´s approach to research and development is to provide decision support, test and develop novel concepts, mainstream and create awareness creation and; provide policy advice and technical assistance around critical livestock and environment hot spots.
The functions of the Virtual Centre are structured along those different environmental hot spots in regional platforms and as a global research network.
The LEAD Platforms provide communication and networking facilities around particular thematic issues identified in their regions. The main thematic issues are: wildlife/biodiversity, deforestation, involution of mixed farming systems, industrial pollution, land degradation and global environmental effects in relation to livestock production. The LEAD Platforms operate in English, French and Spanish, and additional Language Platforms in Chinese, Portuguese and Russian are being developed.
The LEAD Research Network serves as the hub for information exchange of the LEAD research projects in the field. Acting as a complement to the LEAD Language Platforms, registered researchers can exchange data, documents and links, and have access to shared resources all through a Web browser. The LEAD Research Network also acts as a forum for scientific debate and provides decision support tools for research, extension and policy formulation.
This side event illustrated that LEAD´s approach to research and development is to provide decision support, test novel concepts, creation of awareness; and provide policy advice and technical assistance around critical livestock and environment issues.
The Virtual Research and Development Centre relies on electronic communications technologies to help scientists and development workers plan and implement their collaborative efforts and share data, information, and knowledge.
The functions of the Virtual Centre are structured along the different environmental hot spots in regional language platforms and as a global research network.
The LEAD Language Platforms provide communication and networking facilities around particular thematic issues identified in their regions. The LEAD Platforms operate in English, French and Spanish, and additional Language Platforms in Chinese, Portuguese and Russian are being developed.
The LEAD Research Network serves as the hub for information exchange of the LEAD research projects in the field. Working as a complement to the Language Platforms, the LEAD Research Network also acts as a forum for scientific debate and provides decision support tools for research, extension and policy formulation.
Approximately 33 participants attended the side event. The Chairperson was Mr. Henning Steinfeld, Senior Officer, Livestock Information, Sector Analysis and Policy Branch (AGAL) and the Rapporteur was Mr. Mauricio Rosales, Programme Offcier, Livestock Information, Sector Analysis and Policy Branch (AGAL), FAO.
The main conclusion is that this methodological framework for research and development can be adopted as a model to be implemented by other technical divisions in FAO.
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Access to information on technological options can facilitate an active involvement of beneficiaries in the choice of productive strategies. In addition, drawing on technology developed and in use elsewhere not only avoids duplication of effort but can also contribute to the relevance, effectiveness and efficiency of national agricultural research systems (NARS). In recognition of the above, two FAO Expert Consultations on Technology Assessment and Transfer in Asia and Africa in 1992 and 1998, respectively, recommended the creation of inventories of available technology in support of technology transfer and use.
A prototype of a Web-based, interactive and portable platform to document and share information and knowledge has been produced that aims to facilitate access to proven technologies, by allowing for a preliminary technical, socio-economic and environmental assessment and providing links to primary and secondary sources of information and knowledge.
Mr. Ralf Kwaschik, Consultant of the Research and Technology Development Service (SDRR) introduced the background and history of technology assessment and transfer in FAO. He then explained the Technology for Agriculture (TECA) System´s purpose and objectives and the main considerations in development of TECA, i.e., to produce a light, portable, Web-based as well as stand-alone decentralised tool and platform for a network of databases, with a metadata standard for information exchange. He concluded with a number of principal issues to be discussed with regard to the future development of TECA. Finally, the system and its functionalities were presented to the participants.
Mr. Giorgio Lanzarone - WAICENT/FAOINFO Dissemination Management Branch (GILW) reported on the technical and design aspects of the system, highlighting TECA´s portability and XML export and import facilities, as well as the Data Type Definition (DTD).
The moderator, Mr. Perez-Trejo - FAO/WAICENT Manager then opened the floor for discussion.
Discussion and principal issues
TECA was very well received by the participants at the side-event. In the ensuing discussion, a number of issues related to content development and improvement of the database structure were raised. The following needs were identified:
Several participants expressed their interest in establishing partnerships with FAO for content development and the improvement/adaptation of the database structure; a specific comment was made regarding the inclusion of experts in the records.
The side-event was attended by 37 participants. The Chairperson was Ms. Elizabeth Arciniegas, Ministry of Agriculture, Colombia, the Rapporteur was Mr. Javier López Velarde, Ministry of Agriculture, Peru, and the moderator was Mr. Francisco Perez-Trejo, WAICENT Manager, GILD.
Support should be given to the development of the TECA methodological framework, including its validation in the field, and the development of content in the languages of the Organization.
A progress report on the development of TECA will be provided at COAIM 2004.
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The information and communication technology revolution has greatly increased the possibilities for disseminating and sharing knowledge. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has the mandate to "collect, analyse, interpret and disseminate information relating to nutrition, food and agriculture", as well as fisheries and forestry. Knowledge and information are essential for achieving global food security, which is a major goal for FAO.
In its Gender and Development Plan of Action, FAO has recognised that globalisation and new information technologies are transforming the way that production is organised and information shared around the world. These changes could accelerate progress toward gender equality but unless policy makers, practitioners and communities themselves give attention to gender when considering the opportunities and risks, and unless women have a voice in how these new technologies are developed and deployed, these new technologies could very well exacerbate existing inequalities.
ICTs are no longer considered a luxury but an essential instrument for achieving sustainable development. The digital-divide becomes all the more alarming in the context of rural communities who face further marginalisation and widening information gaps than those closer to urban centres. The challenges faced in rural areas include access to infrastructure, training and relevant content in local languages as well as ensuring that the needs of rural communities are reflected in national ICT policy.
Rural women and girls usually have less access than men to information and to new technologies. Without equal access to information, they are at a disadvantage in making informed choices about what to produce and when to sell their products. Lack of information also limits their influence in their communities and their ability to participate in decision-making. On the other hand, if women gain access to information technologies, they will benefit from increased educational opportunities and channels for better networking.
Also, FAO is committed to building country capacity to integrate analysis of environmental, social and economic dimensions of development and sustainability issues at global, regional and national levels. FAO´s Strategic Framework (2000-2015), World Food Summit Plan of Action and successive FAO Gender Plans of Action have recognised the importance of gender-disaggregated data (GDD) in food security policy and planning.
However, FAO recently observed that nearly all Member States face various difficulties in producing and using gender-disaggregated data and statistics. Building on its experience working with data producers and users, especially in the context of the World Census of Agriculture (ESS/SDW), FAO has increased its support to Member States to assist in this area. From 2000 to 2002, the Gender and Development Service (SDWW) developed and field-tested a GDD training methodology and materials to help improve the skills of agricultural data producers such as statisticians, planners, and policy analysts.
As one follow-up to these workshops, FAO has worked with Member States to re-examine existing data sets in order to produce sex-disaggregated databases that can be used with decision-support tools in agricultural and rural development policy formulation and planning. Reworked data can also provide a basis for conducting a gender analysis for a more in-depth understanding of agriculture and to introduce a gender dimension into national systems of statistical data production and use.
The purpose of the side-event was two-fold: i) to advise Members on the importance of integrating gender, information and communication, including ICTs, in all policies in agriculture and rural development; and ii) to inform about FAO´s policies and programmes in promoting gender-disaggregated data and information, and more particularly the approaches developed to training of agricultural statisticians, planners and analysts.
On gender and ICTs
In its Gender and Development Plan of Action, FAO has recognised that globalisation and new information technologies are transforming the way that production is organised and information shared around the world. These changes could accelerate progress toward gender equality but unless policy makers, practitioners and communities themselves give attention to gender when considering the opportunities and risks, and unless women have a voice in how these new technologies are developed and deployed, these new technologies could very well exacerbate existing inequalities. This concern was also echoed in the Declaration adopted at the 2002 Know-how Conference in Kampala, Uganda.
On gender and disaggregated data
FAO’s Strategic Framework (2000-2015), World Food Summit Plan of Action and successive FAO Gender Plans of Action have recognised the importance of gender-disaggregated data (GDD) in food security policy and planning. However, FAO recently observed that nearly all Member States face various difficulties in producing and using gender-disaggregated data and statistics.
Therefore it was concluded that
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Information technologies have been widely adopted across the public and private sectors in agriculture. Senior managers are now faced with a second generation of issues related to effective information management using conventional communication channels as well as new technologies, and are increasingly preoccupied with establishing strategies for their organisations.
This area of concern has been reflected in the growing number of publications over the last ten years seeking to give managers advice on how information and information technologies can be more effectively employed as a means of improving the performance and impact of organisations. For example, the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology Development (UNCSTD) in its publication Knowledge societies: information technology for sustainable development, notes “ICTs are increasingly a focus for policy makers and corporate strategists concerned with development issues”. In a publication from the Financial Times, entitled Mastering information management and aimed mainly at commercial enterprises, it is argued that senior managers have come to realise “that the management of information and information technology is critical to their strategy execution and must be mastered”.
The strategic issues to be resolved have technical, social and financial aspects. Like their counterparts in the private sector, managers operating in the field of agricultural development need to make well-informed and smart investment decisions.
Approximately 40 participants attended this side event. This session was organised by CTA (the ACP-EU Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation).
The introduction to the panel discussion centred on the context in which information management was being approached by international development agencies and their collaborators. One of the main challenges facing those entities was decision-making on investment. It has long been evident that many institutions are not equipped to provide answers to the questions (1) what is an appropriate level of investment in information technology, information content management and dissemination? (2) what are appropriate decision criteria in relation to these investment decisions? These are areas in which the FAO and CTA have some expertise and experience so they were exploring the most appropriate ways of supporting them in this regard.
The panellists explained that in information and IT management there is a great deal of confusion about what constitutes the service termed ‘information’. It was therefore not surprising that there should be an equal lack of clarity as to exactly what its management involves. In addition to limited knowledge, decision-makers in all sectors are faced with rapidly gathering technological changes - a veritable technological revolution in fact – addition to a perception that there is unjustifiably restricted funding.
In order to facilitate the discussion of this issue the Chairman posed the following questions:
The ensuing debate suggested that:
Participants felt strongly that agricultural organisations should place more emphasis on the development of information plans to address the above issues. It was argued that currently, many agricultural organisations appear to make their investments in information products and services largely on an ad hoc basis. The obvious costs in terms of duplication and waste are avoidable. Information activities and resources can, and should, be planned.
More specifically, participants noted that a good information plan for an agricultural research, education, or extension organisation should:
Turning to the process it was concluded that arrangements should be made to ensure that dialogue and exchanges of views between users, ‘technies’, policy-makers and investors takes place during the implementation phase. Arrangements for ‘feedback’ were deemed crucial in this regard.
Further, an important input to such plans would be the promotion of organisational capacity to assess trends in information. This is imperative for the formulation of appropriate decision-criteria for choosing among alternative information investments.
Finally, participants concluded that agricultural organisations should initiate periodic/regular programmes to sensitise policymakers and senior managers to the importance of information. One indicator of the effectiveness of such programmes should be the emergence of information "champions" who can facilitate the implementation of information programmes and plan for sustainability.
FAO, CTA, and the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR) - in collaboration with other international and national organisations - will develop these ideas into a comprehensive package for policymakers and senior managers.
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The first COAIM in June 2000 recognised that AGRIS should become “a key enabler and catalyst to establish a new model of agricultural information management”. Furthermore, it was agreed that FAO should develop AGRIS into a capacity building initiative as well as an information system. The AGRIS network now has 201 Resource Centres, which vary in their resources and level of participation in the network, and opportunities exist to improve the effectiveness of the initiative through enhanced collaboration.
The document discussed during the side event described a strategy for strengthening AGRIS in several ways, which would go beyond merely enhancing the existing central bibliographical database. The proposal is to enable access to electronic versions of documents and publications in full text on science and technology in agricultural development and food security, including addressing problems related to physical accessibility, language, and intellectual property issues. Indeed, the series of changes proposed imply a radically new approach to network participation, based on an expanded range of partners and stakeholders.
Delegates were invited to attend this session to discuss the new strategy for the AGRIS network presented in the draft document entitled “AGRIS - A strategy for an international network for information in agricultural sciences and technology within the WAICENT Framework” (FAO/COAIM-2/Inf 6).
Approximately 70 participants attended the side event, including representatives from 26 AGRIS Resource Centres. The Chairperson was Ms. E. Hesse, Head of Information and Documentation of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture and the Rapporteur was Ms. F. Le Hunte-Ward, Technical Information Specialist (Multimedia), FAO.
The two documents presented to participants were FAO/COAIM-2/Inf 6 "AGRIS - A strategy for an international network" and FAO/COAIM-2/Tech2 "AGRIS: Guidelines for Description of Information Objects". These were introduced briefly by Mr. S. Katz , Chief of the FAOINFO Dissemination Management Branch and by Mr. J Keizer, Information System Officer, FAO.
The participants supported FAO´s proposed approach to the development of AGRIS as outlined the document "AGRIS - A strategy for an international network". The strategy was especially commended for the emphasis on strengthening national capacities.
Participants encouraged FAO, together with AGRIS Resource Centres, to work in all countries (developed and developing) to strengthen national capacities to manage their information in document form, and where relevant to make use of the various methodologies, resources and tools provided by FAO (e.g. WebAGRIS, AGROVOC, AGRIS Categories). Countries should continue to contribute their information to the main AGRIS database, as the only non-commercial global repository of agricultural knowledge.
The coverage of AGRIS was discussed. Some participants emphasized that AGRIS has in the past been valuable for accessing bibliographic data from developed countries such as the USA, UK, Australia, Canada, Germany, and others, and that input has decreased from 170,000 in 1996 to 60,000 in 2001. The lack of updating of such data in the main AGRIS file distributed on CD-ROM has impeded the availability of these data for those developing countries where Internet access is limited, and requires those users with reasonable Internet access to search in many different national and/or commercial databases. It was concluded that FAO works with relevant organizations from developed and developing countries to ensure that their input is made accessible in a user-friendly and effective manner using AGRIS methodologies and tools.
During the discussion on FAO/COAIM-2/Tech 2 "AGRIS: Guidelines for Description of Information Objects”, the urgent need for a new AGRIS metadata standard was confirmed by the participants. There was general agreement that the new guidelines should be distributed to the Resource Centres, and discussed as widely as possible for finalization before mid-2003.
FAO strongly reaffirmed its commitment to the continued development of AGRIS, especially in the light of developing country needs to mobilise their own information.
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Information and communication are recognised as essential components of the development process, to empower poor communities and inform development agencies and policy makers alike, and for linking and informing decision-making processes at every level. Yet information and communication systems are rarely well integrated into development strategies and programmes. The rush to provide Internet access in developing countries is threatening to replace well-established and effective two-way communication systems with a one-way information delivery system, and create a digital divide between those who can afford it and those who can’t.
The research looks specifically at the role of communication and information in livelihood approaches, which are being widely adopted by governments and development agencies. Livelihood principles include focusing on people, using participatory approaches to help them manage their assets more effectively, facilitating linkages between micro-level livelihood systems and the policy environment, stressing outcomes rather than outputs, fostering interdisciplinary teamwork, and encouraging partnership between government, communities and the private sector. Information and communication are critical components of this approach, essential in supplying the information required by poor people in order to make decisions on livelihood strategies, and to supply information required by institutions responsible for making decisions regarding the policies and processes to support those strategies.
The research identified seven key recommendations for improving the contribution of information systems to poverty reduction and food insecurity.
Mr Dylan Winder, Renewable Natural Resources Information and Communication Manager, Rural Livehood Department, provided some background on the collaboration between DFID and FAO on sustainable livelihoods issues in sectoral and intersectoral programmes. Mr Stephen Rudgard, Chief, WAICENT/FAOSTAT Data Management Branch, described the background to the study and an overview of the methodology. Mr John Young, Research Fellow, Overseas Development Institute, delivered a PowerPoint presentation covering the main findings of the study, and drawing participants´ attention to a two-page summary and a CD-ROM providing more information, which were also available to the participants.
The seven key recommendations from the study were described as follows, and illustrated with examples from Ghana, India and Uganda.
The participants concluded that:
The approach is valid and opportunities should be sought to learn more about the individual components of the approach, and to apply the approach holistically (opportunities are emerging in India and Uganda to do this).
More work should be done on:
(This Annex is available in Word format)