Challenges of sharing knowledge – including volcanoes

The struggle to make agricultural information more widely available faces many challenges, but they do not normally include volcanic eruptions. For the last few days, the IAALD conference on Scientific and Technical Information and Rural Development’s website has been providing updates on the effects of activity from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland. So it was a big relief for the organisers to be able to confirm that the meeting (26-29 April, Montpellier, France) is definitely going ahead, with European air traffic getting back to normal.

Iceland volcano

Image: NASA/MODIS Rapid Response Team

IAALD – the International Association of Agricultural Information Specialists – holds a conference every two years, which allows experts to discuss how the world of aginformation is changing. The papers presented at the last meeting in Japan have just been made available on the new Global Agricultural Research Archive (GARA), an open-access full-text database run by CABI. (http://www.cabi.org/gara)

The meeting in 2008 included a paper by Margaret Sraku-Lartey at the Forestry Research Institute in Ghana on the use of delicious social bookmarks to give researchers instant access to current and up-to-date references in their respective areas of research, and a digital repository of the Institute’s work. Another paper by Saravanan Raj of the Central Agricultural University (CAU), Manipur, India described how complex crop pest, diseases, nutrient deficiency and physiological problems found amongst tribal farmers were solved by emailing digital photographs from an-Arik-village knowledge centre to the farm scientists at CAU. The full text of these papers and 2700 others are available for free on GARA.

The GARA site also includes a selection of papers covering agricultural research in Malawi, Pakistan and the Philippines. One of the papers suggests that volcanic material spewed from Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines is not as bad as you might think for growing rice on. Rudolph Reyes and H.U. Neue from the International Rice Research Institute, say that ash clouds from the eruption in 1991 covered rice fields up to 30 km from the volcano with as much as 40 cm of volcanic debris. Their experiments showed that so long as water and nitrogen were available, rice would still grow.

IAALD plans, volcanoes permitting, to put the papers from the 2010 IAALD conference onto GARA.

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