Integrated systems – the sharp end of information management

Locusts, livestock diseases, invasive species, and the legacy of Linnaeus all featured in Thursday morning’s session on integrated information systems at IAALD 2010. All the presentations described how information systems were being tailored to address specific problems and issues in agriculture production for the researcher or for the practitioner at the sharp end of the battle against pests and diseases. In her summary of the session, rapporteur, Valeria Pesce (GFAR), identified a number of common themes.

The first theme was that all systems repackaged existing information, or mixed this with processed input data to add value to them in addressing a problem.

Phil Abrahams summarised the benefits of this approach as he outlined CABI’s proposal for a global plant health centre – a surveillance and knowledge system to tackle the problem of crop losses to pests and diseases. Forty percent of the world’s food from crops is lost to pests and disease before or after harvesting. Interviews with 200 stakeholders ranging from policy makers and farmers to agricultural insurers and supermarkets identified the need for a one-stop-shop for all information on pest distribution, prevention and control to address the problem and to also fulfil substantial economic needs. For example, national regulatory services may need to consult over 50 websites in building a pest risk analysis for the import of one crop shipment, and this could take several weeks, even months, without yielding convincing results. Phil invited delegates to join with CABI in sharing data to provide this service, with some data provided for free and some behind a subscription barrier to help offset costs of sustainability, revision and updating.

How you keep a system running and up to date was the second common thread identified by Valeria. This was addressed directly in Elizabeth Dodsworth’s (CABI) presentation on the requirements for the upkeep of the Invasive Species Compendium, a $3-million initiative of CABI, the USDA and a consortium of other organizations from the public and private sectors. The Compendium, which will integrate items such as detailed information on invasive species, ecosystems and habitats, bibliographic database, mapping data, etc., was built under a policy framework that will require open access to much of its content. So the problem; how do you maintain and update a dynamic system with no payment from customers? CABI and the USDA are building a supporting consortium of funding organizations to cover the costs of $350,000 per year required to maintain the timeliness of the data and the tool’s user interface. Accurate planning and realistic costing is vital to the sustainable success of any integrated system.

The third theme was that of the requirement for standards in nomenclature and formats to assist in adding value to existing data, optimizing data collection for use, dissemination, aggregation and integration.

In summarizing the session, Valeria gave a presentation on The CIARD RING – Coherence in Information for Agricultural Research for Development – A Routemap to Information Nodes and Gateways – which provides guidelines and resources for information system builders. Accepted standards such as the CAB Thesaurus controlled vocabulary are listed along with a directory of organizations with expertise in specific areas of information management. As well as CABI, lead organizations include; CGIAR, CIRAD, CTA, DFID, FAO, FARA and GFAR. CABI’s role is in offering its organizational experience in three themes; archiving information (for example the Global Agricultural Research Archive, GARA, project), dissemination of research (CAB Abstracts), and the communication of research outputs through different media from managing DFID’s R4D website. CIARD RING will grow in value as the number of organizations following its standards and adding their expertise to the catalogue of members grows; building the ultimate integrated system for integrated systems!

To read more about this interesting session, follow these links to the IAALD 2010 website…
Integrated information systems Session 1, Session 2.

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