5. The Consultation was opened by Mr Anton Mangstl, on behalf of Ms Carleen Gardner, the Assistant Director-General of the General Affairs and Information Department of FAO. Mr Mangstl then gave the floor to Ms Louise Fresco, Assistant Director-General of the Agriculture Department of FAO, who delivered the opening speech. In welcoming the participants Ms Fresco expressed her pleasure in opening this first COAIM, and in having been invited to launch this important initiative on information management which is central to FAO's work in achieving the aims of the World Food Summit.
6. Ms Fresco reported on the progress made since the Fourth AGRIS / CARIS1 Technical Consultation held in June 1998. She informed the delegates of the significant progress made in improving access to agricultural information world-wide using the most up to date Internet technologies. She then went on to report on the progress achieved in modernizing the processing of AGRIS data generally, and in reorienting efforts towards producing better tools and systems. The successful transfer of all AGRIS processing functions to Rome has already brought a significant gain in both time and efficiency and will ultimately assist in enhancing information management capacities within the countries themselves.
7. Ms Fresco announced to the delegates the establishment of the Outreach Programme of WAICENT which will play a large part in developing and strengthening knowledge exchange and information systems available in member countries and the international community associated with agricultural development and food security. The Programme will also provide positive support to work in the decentralization of AGRIS.
8. Ms Fresco then presented a strategic view of agriculture in the 21st century as an information-intensive sector of the global economy - moving away from an artisanal, extensive, traditional activity towards a more sophisticated, computerized sector of the economy. She described the agriculture of the future as entailing more efficient and sustainable production systems, making optimal use of resources such as water and managing land in a more intensive way. With time these changes will push agriculture into new domains where access to information is a necessity and not a luxury.
9. Ms Fresco went on to emphasize that in future food security and agricultural development will require a participatory process involving everyone: the government, the private sector, the academic community, farmer organizations and civil society in general. Information exchange will be an essential part of the institutional innovations that will be required for the participatory process to really work: to participate actively we must be better informed.
10. It was reiterated by the speaker that this first COAIM will launch policy dialogues on issues such as access to agricultural information, capacity building and standards. She urged the delegates to participate actively in the debates that would follow.
11. Ms Fresco closed her address by renewing a warm welcome to the participants and assuring them that FAO valued their time and advice. She was confident that their counsel during this Consultation would help to establish the COAIM as the mechanism for policy dialogue on agricultural information management.
12. Ms Neela Gangadharan, Alternate Permanent Representative from India, was elected as Chairperson of the meeting, Ms Pamela Andre, Director National Agricultural Library, USA, as Vice-Chairperson, and Mr. Humberto Molina Reyes, Alternate Representative from the Republic of Chile, as Rapporteur. Mr Francisco Perez-Trejo, (WAICENT Manager, GIL, FAO) acted as Secretary.
13. The Agenda and Timetable were approved with some minor modifications. The Agenda as adopted is set out in Appendix B and the List of Documents is given in Appendix C.
14. Mr Gorjestani, Chief Knowledge Officer, Africa Region, World Bank gave the Keynote Address, "Information and Knowledge for Empowerment". A summary of the presentation is given in Appendix D.
15. The presentation of WAICENT started with a short video. Mr Perez-Trejo, WAICENT Manager, FAO, reminded the Consultation of the importance of information, which represents one of the main challenges for the Organization, and which is contained in the First Article of the Constitution of FAO. He gave a brief outline of current WAICENT activities and developments (http://waicent.fao.org), and described the ways in which WAICENT has improved access to FAO's wealth of information accumulated over the past 50 years, to become FAO's strategic programme on agricultural information management. WAICENT provides the platform for generating information and for developing standards; specialized tools such as the "Information Finder" have been elaborated to facilitate access in a thematic direction to the Organization's information.
16. The priorities for the period 2000-2006 were: (i) the Outreach Programme and capacity building among Member Nations; (ii) normative activities such as development of AGROVOC and support to the Codex Alimentarius; and (iii) contributions to activities such as the Plan of Action of the Food Summit, the Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping System (FIVIMS), and the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS).
17. The Consultation praised WAICENT for the progress made to date in the development and implementation of systems, and some delegations requested that certain issues be recognized and addressed. The Consultation acknowledged that the issue of information quality was paramount.
18. The Consultation agreed that there should be equal treatment with regards all official languages in all WAICENT activities. The Consultation agreed that the multilingual approach is of comparative advantage to FAO and requested that the Organization concentrate its efforts on the full implementation of the language policy in order to make available a greater proportion of the substantive information content in all the official languages, especially in Arabic and Chinese.
19. The Consultation recognized that the constraint of the "digital divide" included many aspects of organizational and personal culture, particularly for the older generation, that were not to be solved merely by the introduction of new systems and tools. It was agreed that FAO enhance as much as possible the two-way nature of information exchange with Members, to obtain maximum value from collaborative links. The need to strengthen the information exchange and management capacities of many developing countries was clearly acknowledged, and the new WAICENT Outreach Programme was seen as a highly appropriate mechanism for extending the Organizations support.
1 AGRIS is the international information system for the agricultural sciences and technology, CARIS is the Current Agricultural Research Information System