Sustainable Development Banner
Knowledge4 banner

September 2004

Workshop on Information and Communication Systems for Agricultural Research and Rural Development

12-13 February 2004
Bucharest, Romania

This workshop was organized by the Romanian Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences (AAFS) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Foreword

Farmers, producers, as well as consumers, require access to timely and appropriate knowledge and information to make informed decisions. Existing information delivery systems for agricultural research, government, extension and education are often weak, unresponsive to users’ needs, not gender-sensitive and lack effective mechanisms for interaction.

The workshop on “Information and Communication Systems for Agricultural Research and Rural Development” was organized as a follow-up to the information and communication needs assessment in Romania, commissioned by the Sustainable Development Group (REUS) of the FAO Regional Office for Europe (REU) in 2002. The aim of the workshop was to bring together all stakeholders of the broader Agriculture Knowledge and Information Systems (AKIS) community in Romania to exchange information; identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and constraints of their information and communication system; and propose activities for its improvement. The current report summarizes the results of the workshop.

It is hoped, that the interaction among stakeholders during the workshop will spawn new initiatives to improve the national AKIS and the institutional capacities for its management.1

Jutta Krause
Regional Representative for Europe
Regional Office for Europe (REU)

TABLE OF CONTENTS

FOREWORD

TABLE OF CONTENTS

LIST OF ACRONYMS

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

1. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

2. PRESENTATIONS

2.1 Participants
2.2 Programme of the meeting
2.3 Summary of presentations
2.3.1 “Information Technologies in Bulgarian Agriculture”
2.3.2 “Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Rural Development of Romania”
2.3.3 “The part played by the network of the Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences in the frame of the Romanian Agricultural Knowledge Information Systems”
2.3.4 “Agricultural high education and scientific research – achievements and prospects in information and communication systems”
2.3.5 “Present way of working for information and communication systems as part of the National Agency for Agricultural Consulting (ANCA)”
2.3.6 “Status of the information and communication system of the Research Institute for Soil Science, Agrochemistry and Environment Protection (ICPA)”
2.3.7 “Information management and communication in Romanian forestry research – present development and perspectives”
2.3.8 “The Romanian Association of Sustainable Agriculture (ARAD)”
2.3.9 “The BIOTECH Foundation”
2.3.10 “The Farmers’ House Foundation”
2.3.11 “Institute of Biology and Animal Nutrition (IBNA)”

3. SWOT ANALYSIS AND FORMULATION OF ACTION

3.1 SWOT analysis
3.2 Recommended actions
3.3 Draft elements for a project proposal to improve the Romanian ICS

4. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Annex 1. List of Participants

Annex 2. Draft Programme



LIST OF ACRONYMS

AAFS Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences
ABI AgroBioInstitute
AGRICOLA AGRICultural OnLine Access
AGRIS International Information System for the Agricultural Sciences and Technology
AGROVOC Multilingual Thesaurus of Agricultural Terminology
AKIS Agricultural Knowledge and Information Systems
ANCA National Agency for Agriculture Consulting
ARAD Romanian Association of Sustainable Agriculture
ARF Farmers’ Association in Romania
BBIC Bulgarian Biotechnology Information Center
CABI International Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences
CARIS Current Agricultural Research Information System
CJCA Centers for Agricultural Consulting (county level)
CLCA Local Centers for Agricultural Consulting
EU European Union
FAO Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
FMEEARD Faculty of Management, Economic Engineering in Agriculture and Rural Development
GIS Geographic Information System
IBNA Institute of Biology and Animal Nutrition
IC Information and Communication
ICAS Forest Research and Management Institute
ICPA Research Institute for Soil Science, Agrochemistry and Environment Protection
ICS Information and Communication System
IPR International Property Rights
ISAAA International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications
IT Information Technology
MAFRD Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Rural Development
MECT Ministry of Education, Research and Youth
NGO Non-governmental Organization
R&D Research and Development
REU FAO Regional Office for Europe
REUS Sustainable Development Group, REU
RNP National Forest Administration
SAPARD Special Accession Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development
SWOT Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats
USAMV University of Agronomical Sciences and Veterinary Medicine
WAICENT FAO World Agricultural Information Centre

Executive summary

The workshop on “Information and Communication Systems for Agricultural Research and Rural Development” was jointly organized by the Romanian Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences (AAFS) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The workshop was a follow-up to the information and communication needs assessment in Romania, commissioned in 2002 by the Sustainable Development Group (REUS) of the FAO Regional Office for Europe (REU). The objective of the workshop was to offer stakeholders of the broader Agriculture Knowledge and Information Systems (AKIS) community in Romania an opportunity to exchange information on their information and communication systems. In addition, the workshop aimed at analysing the strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats for information and communication systems (ICS) for agricultural research and rural development, analysing gaps and formulating project ideas to fill critical gaps for the improvement of ICS to contribute to rural development.

Altogether 22 government officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Rural Development 2 (MAFRD), and representatives of research, extension, education and non-governmental organizations and the mass media from the Romanian AKIS participated in the workshop. George Dimov, Information Technology (IT) Specialist, AgroBioInstitute (ABI), Bulgaria and Cristian Hera, President, Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences (AAFS), participated as guest speaker and expert, respectively. Eleven delegates provided papers on information and communication systems of their respective organizations or institutions. Riccardo del Castello, FAO Communication Officer; and Karin Rosskopf, FAO Research Fellow, moderated the workshop and facilitated the analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis) in the systems of information and communication of the represented units, but also on a national scale.

Some of the strengths identified were the number of organizations in Romania providing consultancies and training to farmers, such as the Biotech Foundation, The Farmers’ Association, the National Agency for Agricultural Consulting and the Farmers’ House Foundation; the availability of some qualified information and communication technology specialists and good information and communication (IC) infrastructure. Major weaknesses identified were the lack of funding and resources, the lack of a communication strategy, a weak regional presence of consulting organizations, lack of feed back from farmers and lack of motivation to improve communication. For joint action to be taken to improve the efficiency of the ICS for agriculture at national level, the following major issues were identified and agreed:

  1. Raising awareness of policy-makers to allocate adequate resources/funding for the improvement of information and communication systems in agriculture.
  2. Formulation of a coherent national information and communication strategy with the identification and involvement of all actors from the Romanian AKIS.
  3. Development of an efficient and systematic feedback mechanism from farmers and their representatives to knowledge and information providers.
  4. Ensuring a functional communication infrastructure plus a dynamic system of data collection and dissemination.
  5. Improving information technology and internet skills of agricultural extension agents and local advisers.

A project idea entitled “Improving the life of Romanian farmers through efficient information and communication systems” based on the list of action, was proposed for submission to FAO.

The event was reflected in different mass media during the workshop, as an Executive Summary presented in the “Romanian Agriculture” magazine by Cristian Kleps, an interview awarded to “Village Antenna” Radio-Broadcast by Gheorghe Sin, and a TV spot at the PRIMA TV-Broadcast, realized with the help of Maria-Elena Teodorescu.

Acknowledgements

The excellent organizational support from the Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences “Gheorghe Ionescu-Sisseti” (AAFS) is greatly appreciated, especially the excellent efforts made by Cristian Hera, President, AAFS and Cristian Kleps, Head, International Relationships Department, who compiled the current report. Moderators facilitating the workshop were Riccardo del Castello and Karin Rosskopf from FAO, and George Dimov, as invited expert from the Bulgarian Centre for Agricultural Sciences. The FAO officers involved in the workshop preparation and editing of the report were Rainer Krell, Karin Rosskopf and Karin Nichterlein.

1. Introduction and background

Romania’s agriculture research system is largely coordinated by the Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences (AAFS). Its pivotal role in the development of agricultural research strategies, and in promotion and coordination of research activities in agriculture, veterinary medicine, mechanization, food industry, forestry and environment protection makes it a key stakeholder in the development of information and communication strategies, tools and content.

An information and communication needs assessment commissioned by the FAO Regional Office for Europe (REU) in 2002 pointed to the rapidly improving communication infrastructure capacities at institutional levels while in general, end user capacities were still lacking. The shortage of content for an evolving strategy became equally apparent. Further discussions pointed to the need to bring together the various stakeholders to better define the different needs and capacities.

As a follow up to this study and in response to current developments, this workshop was conceived, also with a view to bring together not only stakeholders from the research institutions but also their constituents and clients, as well as other stakeholders of the broader agriculture knowledge information systems (AKIS) community. This workshop will contribute to the efforts of improving the national agriculture AKIS and the institutional capacities for their management.

2. Presentations

2.1 Participants

The workshop was conducted according to the work agenda and the list of guests proposed by AAFS and approved by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), corresponding to the Terms of Reference of the Letter of Agreement signed by FAO and AAFS. Altogether 22 government officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Rural Development, and representatives of research, extension, education and non-governmental organizations and the mass media from the Romanian AKIS participated in the workshop (see Annex 1 – List of Participants). George Dimov, Information Technology (IT) Specialist, AgroBioInstitute (ABI), Bulgaria and Cristian Hera, President, Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences (AAFS), participated as guest speaker and expert, respectively. Eleven delegates provided papers on information and communication systems of their respective organizations or institutions. Riccardo del Castello, FAO Communication Officer; and Karin Rosskopf, FAO Research Fellow, moderated the workshop.

2.2 Programme of the meeting

According to the work agenda (see Annex 2 – Draft Programme), the morning session of the first day started with the opening remarks addressed by Cristian Hera, President, AAFS, Riccardo del Castello, FAO Communication Officer and Karin Rosskopf, FAO Research Fellow. The speakers emphasized the importance of a good information and communication flow in the frame of AKIS to provide farmers with the information and knowledge they need to run their farms efficiently and contribute to the transition to market economies in the rural sector.

The FAO participants also stressed the importance of applying appropriate communication methods to project implementation. FAO has been a pioneer in participatory communication approaches which aim at enabling rural people to have access to knowledge and information according to their needs, cultural values and perceptions. These processes employ a number of tools and methodologies for promoting participation and fostering democratic expression of ideas, understanding the needs of certain groups of rural people and for designing targeted communication interventions.

2.3 Summary of presentations

The following are summaries of the individual papers presented to the workshop.

2.3.1 “Information Technologies in Bulgarian Agriculture”, presented by George Dimov, guest speaker from ABI, Bulgaria.
“The communication primarily emphasized the functions of the Bulgarian Biotechnology Information Center (BBIC), a pilot initiative within the frame of the Global Knowledge Center on Plant Biotechnology at the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA). The main objective of BBIC is to serve as a reliable source of information on plant biotechnology and biosafety, by maintaining a bilingual web site (in Bulgarian and in English), where all users could find information on biotechnology and biosafety (www.isaaa.org). The main BBIC’s stakeholders are scientists, policy-makers, public officials, entrepreneurs, farmers, journalists, non-governmental organizations and consumers. From 12 to 13 February 2004, BBIC organized in Sofia, the First National Conference, dedicated to the basic issues in plant biotechnology and biosafety, the concept of high-tech parks and business incubators, as well as the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) in biotechnology.

The second part of the presentation was on the Animal Data Center, a joint establishment of ABI, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, breeding associations, Association of Milk Producers, and Association of Dairy Processors, with the main objectives being to maintain information from the field; recording of breeding animals; and providing services. The tasks of the Animal Data Centre are to: (i) collect individual data from field tests and store them; (ii) carry out a regular check of accuracy of the information; (iii) return summarized results to farmers on farm management; (iv) periodically calculate breeding values and breeding criteria; (v) publish results in coordination with the stakeholders; (vi) carry out research activities in collaboration with the academic authorities; (vi) summarize information for governmental officials; and (vii) collaborate with international organizations for genetic assessment for updating of methods and data contribution.

The last part of George Dimov’s presentation emphasized the development of information technologies (IT) in the frame of the ABI, Sofia, by databases on ABI’s experimental work. Integrated systems for management of projects, documentation, staff, tracing of activities, book-keeping, deadlines, automated meta-reports and project specified procedures were part of the activities of the Bioinformatics Group.

2.3.2 “Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Rural Development of Romania” by Razvan Ghitescu, Integration Counsellor.

In his presentation Mr Ghitescu stressed the MAFRD functions as a specialized body of the central public administration, subordinated to the Government, responsible for the implementation of the Government’s strategy and programme of promoting policies in the following areas: agriculture, food industry, fishery, rural development, sanitary-veterinary, forestry, waters and environment.

The activities of the Ministry target two main categories of audience: internal and external. The internal audience consists of ministry employees (both at central and local level) and the employees of the institutions subordinated to the Ministry (agencies, laboratories, inspectorates). The external audience covers a wide range of ‘users’ (farmers, agrifood and forestry companies, professional associations, unions, educational institutions, research and development units, etc.).

The Ministry has identified the need to develop a solid strategy regarding the internal communication. The traditional communication/information tools currently employed by the Ministry (orders, decisions, regulations, resolutions and newsletters) barely satisfy the ever growing information demands. To better fulfil these demands, the Ministry feels that it should open alternative channels for the internal dissemination of information. A useful tool would be an interactive intranet site to provide the employees with detailed information regarding each person’s responsibilities and schedule, priorities for the coming period, status of legal documents on their internal approval track, forms, human resource manuals and procedures, golden rules and best practices, as well as other information that could enhance the effectiveness of operations. There is also a growing demand within the Ministry for a library and a translation unit.

The external communication falls mainly in the responsibility of the Ministry’s Press Office. Currently a general communication strategy is being worked on which is supposed to employ all the existing means of dissemination (the extranet web site of the Ministry, newsletters, brochures, seminars, press conferences, etc.). Within this general strategy, emphasis has been placed on the European integration issues and on disseminating information about the agricultural implications of this process. Thus, MAFRD has designed a detailed information and communication work plan on this component.

The main difficulties encountered in the design and implementation of an exhaustive strategy of information and communication are mainly related to budgetary and personnel constraints. Currently the IT activities and those pertaining to communication/information are carried out separately by distinctive units within the Ministry. That is why the dissemination of information is not always done using the most suitable technological support.

MAFRD currently analyses the possibility of establishing a communication unit (as a directorate, department or subdepartment) which will be responsible for developing an exhaustive information and communication strategy, for implementing the strategy, developing the intranet web site and extending the extranet web site, for managing relations with its economic and social partners (which includes providing the transparency of the consultations on policy and regulations), and optimizing the flow of internal documents (www.maap.ro).

2.3.3 “The part played by the network of the Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences in the frame of the Romanian Agricultural Knowledge Information Systems”
presented by Gheorghe Sin, Secretary General, AAFS.
He mentioned the status and functions of AAFS, as a public specialized institution of academic recognition and scientific coordination, working under MAFRD coordination and collaborating with the Ministry of Education, Research and Youth (MECT), the Romanian Academy, the Consortium of Agricultural Sciences, universities as well as with other ministries and institutions, in order to fulfil its objectives in the fields of agriculture, veterinary medicine, food industry, forestry and environment protection.

The main beneficiaries of the activity developed by the AAFS network are:

  1. MAFRD and MECT communicate the research results obtained by the AAFS units through annual reports and periodical synthesis material.
  2. The National Agency for Agriculture Consulting (ANCA), communicates the new technologies and applied research results, through books, booklets, training courses, demonstrative plots and exhibitions, periodically organized at the AAFS units headquarters.
  3. Individual households, family associations, agricultural societies with juridical characteristics and the state or mixed farms, have the same type of extension activities, and disseminate important quantities of seeds (grain crops, industrial and forage crops and vegetables), and seedlings (pomiculture and viticulture).

Communication with the beneficiaries is conventional (telephone, facsimile and normal mail) and electronically (e-mail). The main scientific results obtained in various agricultural topics are presented in the annual symposiums organized at the AAFS headquarters, published in the symposium proceedings and distributed to a part of the AAFS beneficiaries. For improved dissemination of the research results obtained by the AAFS units, structures have been developed for extension, consulting and technological transfer organized as "Farmers' Clubs" which employ a wide scale of instruments and means for information dissemination.

The new technologies developed by applied research are collected by the Development Department and distributed to a part of the AAFS beneficiaries through an annual book entitled: “The offer of scientific research for technological transfer in agriculture and food industry”. In the same location the schedule of the extension, consulting and technological transfer activities is elaborated annually for implementation by the AAFS units in collaboration with the NAAC county offices.

The AAFS Office for Cooperation and International Relationships is responsible for providing information related to international scientific cooperation in agriculture, food industry, forestry and environmental protection. For this reason, starting in 2000, a specific network of units connected to the Internet (68 to date), was built for which a wide range of electronic services are provided, using asas@rnc.ro office e-mail address. During the electronic dialogue with the network units, information is provided on request on drafting modalities of international project proposals, and other details related to this kind of issue. Information on international scientific events of major importance to the research-development units is presented in the English version of the AAFS web site (www.asas.ro).

The main difficulties encountered in the implementation of the information and communication strategy are: (i) weak electronic communication with beneficiaries due to the limited number of the units connected to the Internet; and (ii) insufficient funds for organizing scientific and extension events, as well as for printing and distributing relevant materials for all AAFS beneficiaries.

2.3.4 “Agricultural high education and scientific research – achievements and prospects in information and communication systems” by Manea Draghici, Dean, Faculty of Management, Economic Engineering in Agriculture and Rural Development (FMEEARD), University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine (USAMV), Bucharest and the Director of the Research-Development Institute of Agrarian Economy.
The main missions of the FMEEARD were presented: (i) organization of long, short and masters’ degree courses for students; (ii) promotion of applied and fundamental scientific research activities; and (iii) the extension of international cooperation relationships with education and research institutions; and (iv) and organization of scientific events. The FMEEARD strategy of communication includes the accumulation of the specific data from web pages, development of electronic courses by Internet and development of an Intranet network for the Faculty and University.

The prospects for improving the FMEEARD information and communication systems are: (i) improvement of knowledge in informatics and foreign languages, particularly English in order to obtain a certificate with international recognition; (ii) improvement of the teaching system, knowledge evaluation and computer skills; (iii) improvement of information on Faculty web page: www.managusamv.ro; (iv) support and development of the collaboration with the AAFS in research; (v) participation of professors and students in provision of public services (e.g. consulting, provision of expertise, evaluation) in management, marketing and rural development; (vi) set up of a laboratory of VIRTUAL ENTERPRISE by Infosoc3 project; (vii) set up of an Information Cadastre Laboratory also by Infosoc project; and (viii) development of Intranet through the acquisition of a satellite antenna.

2.3.5 “Present way of working for information and communication systems as part of the National Agency for Agricultural Consulting (ANCA)” by Monica Porumbescu, Head of Department, ANCA.
The role of ANCA is that of carrying out and coordinating training activities, education, extension and vocational education with the aim of efficiently using local resources, diversifying and market orientation of agrifood products, increasing quality as well as food safety, stimulation of the association and cooperation initiatives in agriculture and observance of the European norms of the environment protection.

Beneficiaries of the consulting agricultural services are private agricultural producers either individuals or organized in family associations, agricultural associations and companies and agricultural households from target groups.

The information and communication strategy of ANCA at the external level is assured by: (i) information flow development through continuum delivering to agricultural producers of technology, knowledge, economical and managerial skills, legislative and marketing based on conception activities, projections, publication, multiplying and delivering of specialized material, film making, and TV/broadcasts and other audio-video material, communication and organizing vocational training courses, free of charge; (ii) technical assistance provided to agricultural producers concerning application of modern agricultural technologies, and new farm management methods; (iii) information flow developing, improvement of the communication channels and agrofood product promotion, as part of the relation ANCA-agricultural producer and among agricultural producers, through fairs, competitions, exhibitions organized at local or national level; (iv) realization of information transfer, research results, and connection between agricultural producers, input suppliers, research institutes, and agricultural education through the organization of seminars, debates and round tables; and (v) partnerships with different national and international partners with the aim of developing proper technologies, model agricultural farms, and exchange of experience.

The main difficulties encountered in the implementation of the strategy consist of: insufficient endowment at the Centers for Agricultural Consulting at County (CJCA) level and in particular at Local Centers for Agricultural Consulting (CLCA) level (own building, logistics, specific equipment required by mass media activities, transport means); reduced staff at the CJCA/CLCA level (one consultant is responsible for four counties, on average); double subordination of the consultants from CJCA/CLCA (administrative and technical) that lead to blockage/delay in the information and communication system (both at internal and external levels) to beneficiaries of the consulting services.

Amongst the possible future suggestions for improvement of the ANCA communication systems the following were mentioned: an efficient information flow establishment as part of the research-education-consultancy triad, oriented to agricultural producers; setting up databases in each county consulting centre (CJCA) according to the present and future requirements in the field; setting up ANCA’s own web site and providing links with county and local centres for agricultural consulting (CJCA/CLCA) – Intranet network setting up; providing beneficiaries access to the ANCA services from the information available on a site based on the necessary conditions created at the local centres for agricultural consulting, including proper endowment.

2.3.6 “Status of the information and communication system of the Research Institute for Soil Science, Agrochemistry and Environment Protection (ICPA)” by Virgil Vlad, Head of the Informatics Department, ICPA.
The speaker presented ICPA’s activities consisting of: research and technological development; expert evaluations, technical assistance and consulting, information/documentation services; chemical and physical laboratory analyses for soil and plants; training and technology transfer toward users.

The ICPA Information and Communication System (ICS) includes: (i) a web site on Internet (www.icpa.ro); (ii) organization of and participation in scientific conferences/ workshops for output/results presentation; (iii) publishing the results/expertise (articles, books, booklets, codes of good agricultural practices, ANCA publications, electronic publications, etc.); (iv) training courses for potential clients/stakeholders (testing offices, ANCA, farmers, etc.) and provision of lecturers to programmes of ANCA/universities; (v) organizing dialogues with stakeholders/clients to identify the needs; (vi) databases (DB), information and factual: library DB, information DB (results/outputs, publications/literature, services provided, etc.), soil/land resources DBs, fertilizer DB, Internet access (LAN of 50 PSs), international information DBs on CD (AGRIS, CABI, AGRICOLA, etc.), services as AGRIS/CARIS (FAO) centre; (vii) researcher training, documentary visits, experience exchange, joint projects, national and international collaboration; (viii) department of marketing, extension, information/documentation and publishing; (ix) department of informatics; and (x) centre of excellence in soil science, agrochemistry and agricultural environment protection.

Amongst the difficulties encountered in strategy implementation the following were mentioned: poor financial resources available for the activities of extension, information/documentation and communication (related to all components of ICS); lack of a national information and communication system (network) for agriculture; breaking off the link/collaboration with FAO's information system (e.g. AGRIS/CARIS); and extremely low wages for specialists needed for development/implementation of ICS.

Four main priorities were identified to develop a national agricultural information and communication system:

  1. Design, development and implementation of a national agricultural information and communication system as a network of information sources and users (primarily - AAFS library, libraries of research institutes/stations and universities, MAFRD, county directorates for agriculture and rural development, agricultural professional and inter-professional associations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), ANCA and county consulting offices).
  2. Each consortium member provides on Internet, a web site, having on-line information and factual databases and other specific information.
  3. A national web portal provides single access for users (as FAO's WAICENT) and different services as selective dissemination of information profiles, informal discussion forum, electronic conferences, etc.
  4. Development of a thesaurus of Romanian key words for agricultural domains such as FAO's AGROVOC as an example of an agricultural thesaurus system.

2.3.7 “Information management and communication in Romanian forestry research – present development and perspectives” by Iovu-Adrian Biris, Scientific Secretary of the Forest Research and Management Institute (ICAS).
The speaker gave a brief overview of ICAS activities, as a research-development unit with a juridical aspect, as a part of the structure of National Forest Administration - Romsilva and of the national system of research and development. It has the following domains of activity: fundamental and applied scientific research in the field of forestry, elaboration of forestry management plans, elaboration of economic-technical documentation for forestry investments; forestry production in its experimental units; technical and scientific assistance for those units that administrate private or public forests; elaboration of impact studies and environment studies for those activities having an impact on forests. The organizational institute structure includes a main unit and some territorial subunits organized in research stations, laboratories, experimental bases and forest districts (www.icas.ro).

The main financiers and beneficiaries of forestry research are: MAFRD, National Forest Administration (RNP) - Romsilva, MECT, experimental bases and experimental forest districts of ICAS, European institutions and organizations that coordinate cooperative international programmes.

The strategic objectives in the field of information and communication are: (i) gradual progress towards a system of information and communication based on new technologies in order to increase the electronic means (e-mail, mobile telephones, technological lines, GIS and processed planning assisted on the computer, etc.); (ii) an improvement of information communication flux between the institute and its partners (financiers, beneficiaries, potential users of its results, research institutes, universities, NGOs) in order to increase its prestige at national and international level.

The main priorities in developing a modern information and communication system in ICAS are: the connection of all subunits to the communication systems; modern communication and information equipment for all subunits; free access to modern means of communication and information management for all specialists; new organizational structures adopted to new technologies; efficient promotion to the image of ICAS among its partners and beneficiaries and improvement of communication and information channels with the external units/entities (web sites, publications, leaflets, brochures, publishing of scientific works); and the development of an electronic management system of technical and scientific information.

2.3.8 “The Romanian Association of Sustainable Agriculture (ARAD)” presented by Ion Toncea, President.
He stressed that ARAD had been founded on 19 October 1998 on the basis of Law 21/1924, as a non-governmental, apolitical, non-profit and interdisciplinary organization, concerned with the promotion of sustainable farming systems (www.agriculturadurabila.ro).

ARAD members include 44 individual experts and supporters: researchers, professors, agronomists, rural entrepreneurs, students, etc.; 15 peasant families and seven farming associations and companies. Its statutory activity is targeted at: (i) promotion and implementation of sustainable farming standards; (ii) consulting in design of agroecosystems; (iii) theoretical and practical training of farmers and other rural entrepreneurs; (iv) inspection of farms and farming companies and certification of ecological products; and (v) publishing of leaflets, periodicals, books and other scientific papers in order to preserve and rehabilitate the cultural values of Romanian villages.

ARAD has extensive information systems from farm level to worldwide systems, because of the post, telephone and Internet power. Easier access of all ARAD members to the electronic communication systems and development of a professional web site will be new challenges for ARAD, in an attempt to discover and join new information markets for integrated and ecological farming systems.

The ARAD communication system is, like its information system, under construction. ARAD is connected to the main information sources and its members through mail, telephone, facsimile, internet and mass media. Also, the ARAD communication system is based on three activities: (i) acquirement and preservation of information, through farming publications and research projects; (ii) exchange of information, through training courses, web site, mail and e-mail; and (iii) sharing experience, through formal and informal meetings, documentation visits and national exhibitions.

2.3.9 “The BIOTECH Foundation” by Maria-Elena Teodorescu, Marketing Director.
The author mentioned that the Foundation is a non-profit and non-governmental organization, established in 2001 by a group of specialists and researchers in biology and agriculture. It promotes the application of biotechnology, and the latest achievements in genetic engineering, biology and technology.

The general strategy of the BIOTECH Foundation is based on the following principles: (i) the elaboration of a modern educational programme to enhance the knowledge level of rural people (target group), especially of farmers and agricultural workers in order to make them familiar with the modern agricultural technology and to promote the advantages of using biotechnology in agriculture; and (ii) the promotion of the biotechnology applications including the latest achievements including genetic engineering, molecular cell biology and bioengineering.

The main targets of the Biotech Foundation’s information strategy include: (a) the publishing of “AGROMAGAZIN” News, through which the Foundation furnishes information and news about the agricultural sector and modern agricultural biotechnologies; (b) the editing of brochures like “Dictionary of Agricultural Biotechnology" and “Biotechnology - to be understood by children”, to familiarize young readers with biotechnology applications; (c) the organization of national meetings like seminars and workshops, with the participation of specialists in agriculture and biotechnology from different counties of Romania; and (d) the broadcasting of TV and radio shows “AGROMAGAZIN” on the use of modern technology/biotechnology in agriculture.

The efficiency of the information and communication system between foundation and other non-governmental institutions was affected by difficulties in the (i) collection and exchange of information on those concerned in the planning and development initiative aiming at reaching consensus on development problems and options for their solution; (ii) enhancement of the pedagogical and communication skills of the development agents, at all levels, for more efficient dialogue with their audience; (iii) application of communication technology to training and extension programmes, particularly at the grassroots level, in order to improve their quality and impact upon the target group; and (iv) funding of information provision to young people from rural areas.

2.3.10 “The Farmers’ House Foundation” by Emilian Grasu, Director.
The initiative of the Foundation is to improve the ICS by setting up an Internet web site as a "Centre for information, consulting and professional training for farmers" (www.fermierul.ro), that consists of: (i) the on-line magazine "The Farmer" as an electronic newspaper; (ii) the Farmers’ Club on-line discussion list, for farmers who want to give their opinions and concrete suggestions on problems they have faced; (iii) the Section Courses, a department that organizes distance learning for farmers; and (iv) agricultural products stock, that provides information to farmers on the "market on Internet" for their products.

2.3.11 “Institute of Biology and Animal Nutrition (IBNA)” by Catalin Dragomir, Senior Scientific Researcher.
The Institute’s strategy on ICS consists of: (i) operating the Centre of Excellence in Animal Nutrition and Feeding in collaboration with the Agricultural University of Bucharest; (ii) encouraging researchers to professionally interact with colleagues and research stakeholders on a national and international level; (iii) encouraging researchers to acquire skills in IT, Internet use, English; (iv) expanding new communication tools throughout the institute (e.g. Internet access for newly purchased computers; intranet); (v) interacting web site portal on animal science; (vi) image building via mass media/promotional materials/person-to-person contacts/participation in professional events (symposia, workshops, round tables, congresses, fairs, etc.); (vi) developing databases on current and potential stakeholders; (vii) maintaining direct and permanent contact with major companies involved in animal husbandry; (viii) orienting R&D activities according to stakeholders demand (direct research contracts/research co-financing/timely feedback to general market developments); and (ix) consolidating and diversifying the two ICS-dedicated departments: a) Department of Extension and Marketing; and b) Department of Strategy, Documentation, Publishing and IT.

3. SWOT ANALYSIS AND FORMULATION OF ACTION

The workshop continued with the SWOT – analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), of the current Romanian Information and Communication System in agriculture with Mr Riccardo del Castello and Ms Karin Rosskopf as moderators. A SWOT analysis is an instrument used for strategic planning processes to stimulate new ideas and to enhance interaction between the participants. It was used as a basis for the formulation of clear and focused elements of action.

The participants were divided into two groups (MAFRD, NGOs and Mass Media representatives formed the first group and research and education representatives formed the second group) for identifying the SWOT issues. The participants of the two groups wrote down what they considered to be the strengths of the current system. After collecting the results of the two groups, all participants together grouped and discussed the ideas collected with guidance from the moderators. The next step was a voting procedure to prioritize the results. The procedures of collecting and prioritizing ideas were repeated for the identification of weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The SWOT analysis was followed by the formulation of a list of action, structured and prioritized, proposed for increasing the efficiency of the Information and Communication System in the agricultural sector in Romania. This list of action is a summary of this workshop and therefore the details are not accurate and verifiable.

The last part of the workshop consisted in an exercise to draw up project proposals on the priority fields mentioned in the list of action (two proposals for each work team), emphasizing their main elements: (i) outputs; (ii) activities during the project development; (iii) actors involved in the project; (iv) partnerships suggested; and (v) necessary resources/funding. The proposal details are also presented in the next chapter of this report.

The workshop concluded with the closing remarks addressed by Mr Gheorghe Sin, Mr Riccardo del Castello and Ms Karin Rosskopf, who agreed that the event had successfully achieved all its objectives.

The results of the SWOT analysis and the discussion of the action for the improvement of the Romanian ICS are presented below.

3.1 SWOT analysis

The results of the SWOT analysis and the prioritizing of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threads are listed below.

a) Strengths

I. Training and consulting for farmers (11 votes)

II. IC technology/media infrastructure (eight votes)

III. Skilled staff/efficient services (six votes)

IV. Favourable environment (three votes)

b) Weaknesses

I. Lack of funding/resources (13 votes)

II. Lack of communication strategy (eight votes)

III. Regional presence of consulting organizations (three votes)

IV. Lack of feedback from farmers (three votes)

V. Lack of motivation (three votes)

c) Opportunities

d) Threats

3.2 Recommended actions

The workshop participants formulated a list of action, which was discussed, structured and prioritized, aiming to increase the efficiency of the Information and Communication System in the agricultural sector in Romania.

a) List of action

  1. Establishing a contact person at the central administration (e.g. MAFRD) to manage relationships with NGOs.
  2. Designing an IC strategy at MAFRD based on proposals by stakeholders including feedback system from farmers.
  3. Brainstorming sessions with farmers to identify and prioritize their information needs.
  4. More involvement of NGOs to motivate and convince farmers of IC benefits through broadcasting, information campaigns, newspapers.
  5. Development and implementation of a dynamic system for collection and dissemination of agricultural data.
  6. Assigning adequate budgetary funds to all components of communication and information systems with emphasis on research as the main provider of information.
  7. Attracting extrabudgetary funds from national and international sources through projects that match demands of ICS in agriculture.
  8. Elaboration of a detailed strategy for ICS in agriculture through cooperation between all actors.
  9. Identification of the main ICS actors, acting in the framework of the Romanian AKIS.
  10. Coherently assigning funds for communication infrastructure.
  11. Ensuring feedback from farmers (direct and by different bodies) by setting up a proper system of communication and information.
  12. Elaboration of adequate training for information providers within ICS.

b) List of action (structured and prioritized)

  1. Raising awareness of policy-makers regarding allocation of adequate resources/funding for improving the specific IC activities (15 votes).
  2. Formulation of a coherent IC strategy with the identification and participation of all actors involved in the Romanian AKIS (ten votes).
  3. Development of a proper and systematic feedback mechanism from farmers and their representatives (six votes).
  4. Ensuring a functional communication infrastructure plus a dynamic system of data collection and dissemination (five votes).
  5. Ensuring training programmes for information providers regarding ICS (two votes).
  6. Raising users’ awareness from rural areas regarding the benefits of an efficient information and communication system (one vote).
  7. Improving the communication system between NGOs and government (one vote).

3.3 Draft elements for a project proposal to improve the Romanian ICS

a) Main target objective

Improving the life of Romanian farmers through efficient information and communication systems

b) Identification of important project elements

Two working groups identified important project elements such as project outcome, activities, actors and partnerships. Due to the time constraint during the workshop the actual details of the project elements were not elaborated in depth, but in a skeletal form.

Project element 1: IC strategy (first proposal of Group 1)

Outcome: IC strategy for Romania, published in paper and online

Activities:

  1. Develop methodology to formulate a strategy;
  2. Classification/categorizing the information;
  3. Study on what category of information is needed by whom;
  4. Formulate strategy.

Actors: Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Rural Development, R&D, academies

Partnerships: NGOs, farmers’ associations, food industry

Project element 2: Feedback system from farmers (second proposal of Group 1)

Outcome: Constant information input from a target group of farmers

Activities:

  1. Target group selection (sampling);
  2. Periodic design and administration of questionnaires;
  3. Processing, analysing, dissemination of information;
  4. Solutions to improve feedback collection;
  5. Solutions to improve the ICS.

Actors: NGOs, ANCA, farmers’ associations

Partnership: survey organization

Project element 3: Improving IT and Internet skills of agricultural extension agents/local advisers (first proposal of Group 2)

Outcome: Extension agents/local advisers trained in IT for agricultural issues

Activities:

  1. Theoretical courses;
  2. Practical courses;
  3. Exam => Diploma.

Actors:

Partnership: ANCA, agricultural universities and research-development institutes working in the network of the Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences

Project element 4: Functional communication infrastructure plus dynamic system of data collection and dissemination (second proposal of Group 2)

Outcome: Agricultural data collection/dissemination system

Activities:

  1. R&D and status analysis and system design;
  2. Developing application software for dynamic database;
  3. Purchasing new necessary PCs and communication facility;
  4. Elaborating working procedures;
  5. Employing personnel;
  6. Training of personnel;
  7. System implementation.

Actors: Ministry/County Agricultural Directorates, ANCA/CJCA

Partnerships: agricultural research institutes, universities, agricultural professional association, NGOs

All elements of the project proposal respond to the main target objective “Improving the life of Romanian farmers through an efficient information and communication system”, taking into account the priorities identified in the list of action. The proposals could be divided into four main categories: training, feedback, infrastructure and strategy, in accordance with a type of action. As displayed in the figure below, the main stakeholder in the ICS in Romania is indicated and the action to be pursued in the project proposal and its outreach into the AKIS system are highlighted.

4. Conclusions and recommendations

The meeting provided an excellent opportunity for exchanging experiences and ideas and network building amongst participants and actors within the IC system for agriculture and forestry in Romania.

Some strengths of the system identified were the number of organizations in Romania providing consultancies and training to farmers, such as the Biotech Foundation, The Farmers’ Association, the National Agency for Agricultural Consulting and the Farmers’ House Foundation; the availability of some qualified IC technology specialists and good IC infrastructure. However, major weaknesses were identified as the lack of funding and resources, the lack of a communication strategy, a weak regional and local presence of consulting organizations, the lack of a feed back mechanism from farmers and lack of motivation to improve communication.

The participants made various proposals for the improvement of the IC system for agriculture in Romania both amongst providers and users of information and amongst different categories of users.

It was agreed that the need for information differs among the various users and that the provision of appropriate extension information has to be adapted to the needs of specific target groups.

The meeting highlighted the importance of formulating an IC strategy for Romanian agriculture involving all actors. This will ensure a truly bottom-up articulation of farmers’ needs and enhance the collaboration among institutions and organizations involved in agricultural research, education and extension. An IC strategy would also be essential for an efficient allocation of resources, which are currently lacking.

A good feedback system for identifying and prioritizing the information needs of farmers is lacking and would be an essential element in improving the IC system and building an IC strategy.

It was agreed that there is a need for training in information technologies and management at local (county) level for agricultural advisers and extension agents. Filling this training gap will be catalytic for rural development initiatives and will increase the impact of extension services to farmers. This will be in line with the work of ANCA on provision of electronic information at the local level. It was recommended that FAO should provide technical support for information management training.

It was agreed that the existing information technology infrastructure within the stakeholder organizations of the IC system in agriculture needs further development. A major gap identified within the ANCA network was the missing links between agencies, farmers and other actors of the network. It was agreed that introducing a new system for data collection and dissemination would greatly enhance the performance and effectiveness of the overall communication system to benefit the needs of farmers and other stakeholders.

Due to the large variety of information providers in agriculture in Romania, a need for more transparency of information providers was identified. It was agreed that it would be extremely valuable to have a guide, both in printed and electronic versions, of information providers especially for extension services, MAFRD, farmers and all interested users. In addition, it was recommended to link existing web sites of information providers and to further develop their web sites including database development and permanent updating. For example, the web site of MAFRD could be used as an information gateway for other information providers in a structured way (e.g. linking web sites).

A project idea entitled “Improving the life of Romanian farmers through efficient information and communication systems” based on the list of action, was proposed for submission to FAO.

The integration of Romania into the EU is considered favourable for the future information and communication system in agriculture. The Romanian national strategy for European integration provides an opportunity to strengthen the information and communication system in agriculture (e.g. SAPARD programme). Collaborative partnerships with national and international institutions as well as training in international project management (e.g. writing good project proposals) would greatly contribute to attracting and maximizing foreign investments.

Endnotes

1The designations employed and the presentation of material in this information product do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

All rights reserved. Reproduction and dissemination of material in this information product for educational or other non-commercial purposes are authorized without any prior written permission from the copyright holders provided the source is fully acknowledged. Reproduction of material in this information product for resale or other commercial purposes is prohibited without written permission of the copyright holders. Applications for such permission should be addressed to the Chief, Publishing Management Service, Information Division, FAO, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy or by e-mail to copyright@fao.org
© FAO 2003
2Previously known as Ministry of Agriculture, Forests, Waters and Environment (MAFWE)
3 Infosoc is the acronym of Directorate General (DG) Information Society of the European Union

Annex 1
List of participants

A. Invited persons and FAO moderators

Cristian HERA – AAFS President; Tel.: 40 21 2227834; E-mail: asashera@rnc.ro
Valeriu STERIU – MAFRD State Secretary; Tel.: 40 21 3078503; E-mail: steriu@maa.ro
George DIMOV – ICT Expert, Bulgarian National Centre for Agricultural Sciences; Tel.: 35 92 9635411; E-mail: gdimov@abi.bg
Riccardo DEL CASTELLO – FAO Communication Officer; Tel.: 39 06 57054051; E-mail: Riccardo.DelCastello@fao.org
Karin ROSSKOPF – FAO Research Fellow; Tel.: 49 179 4968465; E-mail: Karin.Rosskopf@fao.org

B. Participants

Gheorghe SIN – Professor, University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine (USAMV) Bucharest and AAFS General Secretary; Tel.: 40 21 2228435; E-mail: asas@digi.ro
Razvan GHITESCU - MAFRD Counsellor, European Integration Department; Tel.: 40 21 3072345; E-mail: razvan.ghitescu@maa.ro
Manea DRAGHICI – Dean of the Agricultural Management Faculty (USAMV Bucharest) and Director, Research Institute for Agricultural Economy and Rural Sociology; Tel.: 40 21 2229130; E-mail: maneadraghici@hotmail.com
Gheorghe MENCINICOPSCHI – Director, Institute for Food Research; Tel.: 40 21 4906450; E-mail: ica@rnc.ro
Octavian POPESCU – Director, Research Institute for Forestry; Tel.: 40 21 2406845; E-mail: office@icas.ro
Monica PORUMBESCU – Expert, National Agency for Agricultural Consulting (ANCA); Tel.: 40 21 3124620; E-mail: ancamodelare@anca-maap.ro
Vlad VIRGIL – Head of Information Office, Research Institute for Soil Science, Agrochemistry and Environment Protection; Tel.: 40 21 2229442; E-mail: vvlad@icpa.ro
Ion TONCEA – President, Romanian Association for Sustainable Agriculture (ARAD); Tel.: 40 21 3150805; E-mail: toncea@ricic.ro
Maria-Elena TEODORESCU – Director for Marketing, BIOTECH Foundation; Tel.: 40 722 798338; E-mail: mteodorescu@fundatie-biotech.ro
Mariana RUSU – Director, Research Institute for Mountain Science; Tel.: 40 269 579408; E-mail: montsib@rdslink.ro
Cristian KLEPS – Head of International Cooperation Office – Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences; Tel.: 40 21 2229128; E-mail: asas@rnc.ro
Alexandru BRAD – President of “Romanian Village” Foundation and Director, “Romanian Agriculture” Magazine; Tel.: 40 21 2240665; E-mail: agricultura_romaniei@fx.ro
Adrian RADULESCU – President, Romanian Agricultural Producers League (LAPAR); Tel.: 40 722 850196
Adelina POPESCU – President, Romanian Farmers’ Association (AFR); Tel.: 40 21 3125947
Doina GROSSU – Director, Institute of Biology and Animal Nutrition; Tel.: 40 21 2662961; E-mail: ibna@pcnet.ro
Stefan RANCU – Editor, Romanian Radio-Broadcast “Antena Satelor”; Tel.: 40 21 3031200; E-mail: antenasatelor@srr.ro
Emilian GRASU – President, “Farmers’ House” Foundation, Vice-President, National Union of Romanian Agricultural Producers (UNPAR) and Director, “Romanian Agriculture” Magazine; Tel.: 40 723 387264; E-mail: emil.grasu@fermierul.ro
Luise GHEORGHIU – Engineer, Agrarian Economy AAFS Scientific Section Tel.: 40 21 2241790; E-mail: luisegh@yahoo.com

Annex 2

Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences “Gheorghe Ionescu-Sisesti”

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

WORKSHOP on

"Information and Communication Systems for Agricultural Research and Rural Development"

12-13 February 2004, Bucharest, Romania

Draft Programme

12 February

09.00 hours Opening of the workshop
10.00 hours Individual presentations
11.00 hours Break
11.30 hours Presentations continued
12.30 hours Lunch
14.00 hours SWOT Analysis
16.00 hours Break
16.30 hours Brainstorming on needs and action
18.30 hours Dinner

13 February

08.30 hours Detailed action for different stakeholders (brainstorming)
10.00 hours Break
10.30 hours Identification of priorities and partnerships
12.30 hours Lunch
14.00 hours Identification of important strategy and project elements (objectives, activities, actors, targets, work plan, resources/funding)
16.30 hours Break
17.00 hours Concluding session
18.30 hours Dinner


l

SD Homepage l Back to Top l FAO Homepage