2022 AGRIS Virtual Annual Conference Report


Partnerships: Focus on the AGRIS Network and Country Hubs

Held online on Thursday 7 July, the 2022 AGRIS Virtual Annual Conference was a success.

The informative presentations, skillfully moderated breakout sessions in the six official FAO languages, the knowledgeable contributions of the two invited panelists from the AGRIS Country Hubs in Georgia and the Republic of Moldova, as well as the engagement of all the participants, were all instrumental in making the conference a memorable and enlightening one.

Structured around the theme of partnerships and titled "Partnerships: focus on the AGRIS Network and Country Hubs", the conference was conducted in English, with breakout sessions in all six official FAO languages enabling participants to engage with the presenters, interact with one another and ask questions in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. The conversation in each language-based breakout room or session was "consolidated" by moderators and reported back to a main breakout room for elaboration and further discussion.

This focused, half-day event outlined how FAO-coordinated AGRIS leverages partnerships to promote the knowledge sharing essential for agricultural innovation and the sustainable transformation of global agricultural and food systems, whilst simultaneously benefiting the organizations that partner with AGRIS. 

Along with reviewing the developments and achievements of the past year, the conference explained the composition of the AGRIS Network, including the process of becoming a member (a data provider) – while providing the audience with a grasp of the different aspects of the internal structure that underpins it – and the different benefits of becoming one. The event then proceeded to focus on AGRIS Country Hubs, a special category of data providers, elaborating on their tasks and responsibilities.

Two invited panelists, Marina Razmadze and Viorica Lupu from the AGRIS Country Hubs in Georgia and the Republic of Moldova, respectively, provided an engaging review of their institutions’ experience of being country hubs, thereby further adding to participants’ understanding of country hubs.

Opened with a brief welcome speech by Enrico Bonaiuti of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) – with whose organization FAO has commenced a collaboration in early 2022 – the conference was divided into three main sessions:

  • What is new in AGRIS (presented by Imma Subirats, AGRIS Programme Manager, FAO)
  • How to join the Network and the benefits of doing so (presented by Valentina De Col, Agricultural Information System Officer, ICARDA, and Hrijoy Bhattacharjee, Communications Specialist, FAO)
  • AGRIS Country Hubs: what they are, their roles and responsibilities, and how to become one (presented by Imma Subirats, AGRIS Programme Manager, FAO)

Session 1: What is new in AGRIS

Presented by Imma Subirats, the first session introduced AGRIS, explained its composition, outlined the evolution of its content over the past six years and highlighted its usage statistics before focusing on the latest developments, including the partnership with ICARDA, new and upcoming publications and capacity development activities, both completed and planned.

AGRIS composition and content evolution

AGRIS comprises two main elements – a network and a database. The AGRIS Network refers to the contributing community of institutions from different countries. Since the 1970s, the network has grown to include institutions from 150 countries. AGRIS is also a searchable database with millions of structured bibliographical records on agricultural science and technology. The database is used by anyone interested in such literature, including students, scientists, librarians, researchers, publishers and policymakers, among others. 

 The composition of AGRIS
Figure 1. The composition of AGRIS. Source: FAO, 2022.

As of June 2022, the AGRIS database had increased its collection of structured bibliographic references by 60 percent over the preceding six years, with more than 540 000 new records added since the first automated harvest in June 2021.

AGRIS Content Evolution, 2016 – 2022
Figure 2. AGRIS Content Evolution, 2016 – 2022. Source: FAO, 2022.


Usage statistics, training and publications

AGRIS’s usage statistics indicated a significant upward trend in both the number of users (from 6.6 million to 10.3 million) and the number of sessions (from 10.2 million to 14.2 million) between June 2021 to June 2022 as compared to the period between June 2020 and June 2021.

As with any partnership, feedback-based training and capacity development activities are fundamental for AGRIS to grow and flourish and increase the knowledge sharing important to defeating hunger. To this end, formal (for example, surveys) and informal (in the form of issues raised with the AGRIS helpdesk) feedback serve the important purpose of suggesting topics of interest. Based on such feedback, three training webinars were held:

  • two webinars on the use of Juris-M, a reference manager software that supports managing bibliographic records in multiple languages and metadata creation of multilingual resources in AGRIS; and
  • one webinar, conducted in Spanish, dedicated to all those in Central America who know about AGRIS as well as those who wish to know more about it, including about how to join the AGRIS Network.

The publications pipeline includes an updated AGRIS User guide, a new guide for AGRIS Data providers and the first AGRIS Brochure, with the first two aimed at providing detailed guidance on searching the database and contributing to AGRIS, respectively.

Collaboration and capacity development with ICARDA

A significant development for 2022 was a collaboration with ICARDA that was established at the beginning of the year. The main purpose of the collaboration is to promote the visibility and accessibility of scientific research and technical knowledge related to food and agriculture through AGRIS. ICARDA and AGRIS would jointly create a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) in the last quarter of 2022 to build capacity within the AGRIS Network, especially for data providers. This would include self-paced lessons in English to introduce and explain data submission to AGRIS and ensure a better understanding of AGRIS metadata requirements.

Collaboration with ICARDA
Figure 3. Collaboration with ICARDA. Source: FAO, 2022.


AGRIS Data Provider Survey

The AGRIS Data Provider Survey collected feedback from 117 data providers earlier in the year on different aspects of AGRIS, ranging from contributing data to useful training activities. The goal of this comprehensive survey was to better understand the expectations and needs of data providers, and use the knowledge to improve AGRIS, to the extent possible.

Some of the main topics covered by the survey were:

  • types of data providers in AGRIS;
  • types of content and the subject matter of the data contributed to AGRIS;
  • difficulties encountered by data providers when contributing metadata;
  • importance of training activities;
  • kinds of training and capacity development activities sought; and
  • use of AGROVOC, FAO’s multilingual thesaurus, to index content.

Survey responses about the kinds of training considered desirable by data providers indicated significant interest in learning to submit metadata as well as better understanding the metadata requirements in AGRIS.

Figure 4. Survey responses about important training activities
Figure 4. Survey responses about important training activities. Source: FAO, 2022.

Based on the survey responses indicating the kinds of training considered important, AGRIS and ICARDA were preparing a self-paced MOOC in English that focused on submitting metadata to AGRIS and helping data providers to better understand the AGRIS metadata requirements.


Session 2: How to join the AGRIS Network and its benefits

Presented by Valentina De Col and Hrijoy Bhattacharjee, the second session focused on the AGRIS Network in detail, including its evolution over the decades since its inception in the 1970s, its current composition in terms of the types of organizations comprising it, before proceeding to elaborate the benefits of being part of the network, as well as the process of joining it.

Figure 5. AGRIS data providers by country and type of organization, as of June 2022. Source: FAO, 2022.
Figure 5. AGRIS data providers by country and type of organization, as of June 2022. Source: FAO, 2022.
Why be part of the AGRIS Network?

Organizations benefit from joining the AGRIS Network, including by:

  • being a part of a dynamic international network with a focus on agricultural content which is accessible, intensively used and massively distributed in the global information landscape; 
  • exchanging information and data between different countries and stakeholders; 
  • sharing unique materials, such as unpublished scientific and technical reports, governmental publications, conference materials, data sets, maps, etc.; 
  • increasing the visibility of the organization at the global level; 
  • increasing the usage of institutional research outputs; 
  • enabling discoverability on the web;
  • creating knowledge-sharing networks; and
  • facilitating opportunities for further collaboration.

The weight assigned to the different benefits of being part of the AGRIS Network, according to those organizations who took part in the data provider survey conducted earlier in the year, is revealed in Figure 6.

Benefits of being part of the AGRIS Network, according to data providers
Figure 6. Benefits of being part of the AGRIS Network, according to data providers who participated in the AGRIS Data Provider Survey. Source: FAO, 2022.


Joining the AGRIS Network is easy but trust is important

While joining the network was free to all organizations whose collections of scientific literature and/or data in FAO’s areas of interest were available through digital libraries, repositories, journals and datasets, emphasis was placed on ensuring that only trusted sources could contribute to the AGRIS database. In particular,

  • AGRIS does not accept applications from publishers known for predatory publishing practices.
  • Publishers of independent journals need to provide proof of concept for the recognition of the publisher at national level, for example, endorsement by national research funding bodies.
  • Publications need to have at least two years of publishing history.
  • Publishers within the AGRIS Network need to continue following best practices, failing which they risk exclusion from the Network and the removal of their data from the database.

Organizations could apply to become AGRIS data providers by filling out a registration form available on the AGRIS website.

AGRIS Data Provider Registry

All the necessary information of every data provider is stored and managed in the AGRIS Data Provider Registry (ADPR). Data providers and users can search the ADPR by country, the unique AGRIS code assigned to each data provider or even by the name of a particular data provider.

AGRIS Data Provider Registry (ADPR)
Figure 7. AGRIS Data Provider Registry (ADPR). Source: FAO, 2022.

Significant improvements to the ADPR provide increased visibility to data providers and their activities within the network, specifically the publicly visible profile of each data provider containing their description, their activity status, links to the organization, the resources (journal, repository, library catalog, etc.) indexed in AGRIS, as well as articles and blogs pertaining to their activities within the AGRIS Network.

Improvements to the publicly visible profile of a data provider in the ADPR
Figure 8. Improvements to the publicly visible profile of a data provider in the ADPR. Source: FAO, 2022.


A service for AGRIS Data Providers – the Institutional Dashboard – and other resources

While the features of AGRIS are available to all data providers from the time they join the network, there is one service that needs to be specifically requested by data providers. After requesting and receiving their credentials to use this service, known as the Institutional Dashboard, data providers can:

  • monitor the usage statistics of their data in AGRIS (through a dashboard feature) – the number of people viewing their data and from where; the most frequently viewed records; and the changes in these statistics over time;
  • easily access their collections and embed them on their organizational websites; and
  • filter the collections of other data providers.

The session concluded with a mention of where the latest news and developments in AGRIS, along with useful guidance on a range of topics – from metadata requirements to using the Institutional Dashboard – could be located on the AGRIS website.

Session 3: AGRIS Country Hubs: what they are, their roles and responsibilities, and how to become one

Presented by Imma Subirats, the third session focused on a special category of data providers – AGRIS Country Hubs. Formerly known as AGRIS National Centres, AGRIS Country Hubs are data providers of long standing that act as national or regional focal points for AGRIS, and are responsible for:

  • promoting AGRIS;
  • guiding eligible partners on joining the AGRIS Network;
  • advising existing and potential organizations on submitting information to AGRIS;
  • assisting in selecting appropriate encoding strategies, such as the use of AGROVOC, for producing bibliographic metadata; and
  • coordinating capacity development activities.

The country hubs promote AGRIS through workshops, training, roundtables, webinars and publications.

Country hubs promoting AGRIS
Figure 9. Country hubs promoting AGRIS. Source: FAO, 2022.


Support and capacity development

Along with promoting AGRIS, country hubs also support potential and existing data providers and engage in capacity development activities within the AGRIS Network. 

This support provided to existing and potential data providers takes many forms, including:

  • guiding potential data providers on joining the AGRIS Network; 
  • assisting in producing bibliographic metadata; and
  • advising on submitting metadata.

Country hubs coordinate and facilitate knowledge-sharing and capacity development activities at the institutional, national and regional level to support existing and potential data providers. These activities include, but are not limited to:

  • translating existing self-paced training materials or materials used for face-to-face, webinars and/or MOOCs; 
  • identifying relevant topics of interest to the AGRIS Network; 
  • focusing on metadata production and submission; 
  • enhancing awareness about open science and open access in agriculture; 
  • training researchers and practitioners on new trends in agricultural research; and
  • creating awareness about FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) principles.

Currently, there are nine active AGRIS Country Hubs, one in each of the following countries: Belarus, China, Georgia, Latvia, the Republic of Moldova, the Russian Federation, Serbia, Thailand and Turkey.

Panel discussion – experiences of two AGRIS Country Hubs

Two distinguished panelists from the AGRIS Country Hubs in Georgia and the Republic of Moldova discussed their respective organizations' experiences as country hubs, in particular the benefits and challenges of becoming and remaining one.

Marina Razmadze, the Deputy Director of Institute Techinformi of the Georgian Technical University, highlighted how “after receiving the status of AGRIS Country Hub unexpected opportunities and new initiatives became available at the National Level.” 

Marina Razmadze
Marina Razmadze, AGRIS Country Hub, Georgia

She elaborated on the point:

“For example, now as a Country Hub in Georgia our institution is able to strengthen and enforce our collaboration with different NGO's and governmental organization and applied for the joint development programs and funds at the National level. Of course, it was possible before as well but with the new status we rise the chances to be more visible and prioritizable among other targeted organizations and institutions in the field of Agriculture. Moreover, as a Country Hub, our organization and the AGRIS team play kind of consultant role for other universities, libraries, researchers and other targeted organizations in the field of agriculture. We assist them in all matters related to agricultural information management. We offer them a wide range of workshops, training, teaching sessions and round tables."

According to Viorica Lupu, the Deputy Director at the Republican Scientific Agricultural Library of the State Agrarian University of Moldova, explained that country hub status had "significantly strengthened our role and helped us to become a focal point at the national level in the context of agricultural data management and capacity building activities. AGRIS offers agricultural institutions from the Republic of Moldova the opportunity to be part of an advantageous international network and to contribute to the promotion of Moldovan scientific research globally. Being part of AGRIS we have access to a dynamic global community of practice working on modern infrastructures and have the opportunity to strengthen our own national network."

Viorica Lupu, AGRIS Country Hub, Republic of Moldova
Viorica Lupu, AGRIS Country Hub, Republic of Moldova

She went on to mention "…gaining experience in capacity building as AGRIS Country Hubs, our institutions from Georgia and Moldova applied for and won EOSC (The European Open Science Cloud) grant in 2022, which will strengthen awareness about open data in food and agriculture in the Republic of Moldova and in Georgia. In fact, the experience of our institutions as AGRIS Hubs had a positive and clear effect serving as a bridge to EOSC."

Multilingual breakout sessions

Discussions in the breakout rooms (one for each official FAO language) at the end of Sessions 2 and 3 of the conference provided feedback that will prove valuable in planning support and capacity development activities in AGRIS over the short and medium term. The discussion in each session was consolidated by a moderator and reported back to the main breakout room, which was moderated by Imma Subirats in English. The feedback focused on the benefits as well as the challenges faced by data providers and country hubs.

Some of the notable feedback regarding the benefits of being a data provider include:

  • greater global visibility for the organizations, their work and publications/collections, as a consequence of the large number of users of AGRIS, not to mention its global scope;
  • increase in the citation rates of authors from different countries;
  • access to data from other organizations;
  • exposure to the experience and knowledge of other organizations; and
  • access to the different training and capacity development activities, such as the ones on Juris-M that were conducted earlier in 2022.

The challenges faced by organizations are generally caused by a lack of one or more of the following:

  • financial resources;
  • internal technical knowledge and support;
  • dedicated human resources for metadata creation and submission, as well as for other AGRIS-related activities; and
  • consistency and coherence in metadata management between different organizations, which can prove to be an obstacle for different members of the network to work together.

In the breakout sessions on country hubs, the importance of libraries and the effectiveness of information campaigns in the promotion of AGRIS was remarked on. In those sessions, institutions from Colombia, India, Libya, Nepal, Slovakia, Somalia and the Syrian Arab Republic showed interest in exploring the possibility of becoming country hubs. 


Thank you!

We would like to thank our guest speakers for their insightful contributions; the moderators for their thoughtful guidance of the discussions in the breakout sessions; and all attendees for their engagement, comments and questions in the 2022 AGRIS Virtual Annual Conference.

Those interested in news and updates from AGRIS can sign up for the newsletter. To find out more about AGRIS, please visit the AGRIS website.

The presentation used in the conference can be downloaded HERE.