Science Forum 2009 

The Workshop on ICTs Transforming Agricultural Science, Research and Technology Generation organized by GFAR during the Science Forum 2009 concluded that by investing in ICTs, more participatory, collaborative, creative and “impactful” agricultural science and innovation is possible. ICTs can enable inclusion - not only scientists, but all in the “chain”, from producers, processors, marketers and consumers - in agricultural innovation. 

As expressed by Judith Francis, Senior Programme Coordinator of Science & Technology Strategies of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), "The greatest accomplishment about the ICT Workshop was that it brought a stronger but renewed focus to and enhanced commitment for expanding the important role of ICTs in the agricultural science for development agenda and provided a broader understanding of the operating environment (not just for researchers and scientists, but also for farmers, traders etc., as well as the different research domains)".

The issue is how to use advances in information sciences and ICTs, such as exponentially growing processing power, clouds of shareable tools, applications and intelligently linked content and data for an “inclusive” agricultural science, research and innovation. There is a rapidly growing ability to collect, analyze, use and reuse massive, distributed collections of data that can contribute to plant and animal breeding, improved use of natural resources for agriculture, for ensuring food safety and for averting and mitigating risk to agricultural production systems. Advances in ICTs are empowering “crowds of people” to create and manage information and knowledge and agricultural innovation systems have to harness them.

There are emerging opportunities from the use of ICTs to connect all actors and stakeholders in agricultural innovation, develop and enhance data banks and information repositories and enable them to share and exchange their contents universally. ICTs can enable greater equity in accessing information and knowledge and make agricultural research and innovation and the Institutions that foster agricultural sciences more responsive.

Ehud Gelb of the Center for Agricultural Economic Research in Israel noted that the Workshop provided the opportunity for "a concrete outline of priorities and an ideal way for participants to introduce new ideas."

The workshop identified various issues such as the need for investment, new capacities in skills, balancing competing demands and policy directions related to improved information management and intellectual property rights, data security, privacy, coherence and inter-operatibility of data and information management systems, fragility of human and institutional capacities, language, enabling effective use of information and the threat of marginalizing some actors that need to be considered to make full use of the opportunities that information science and ICTs have now created. The issue of changing incentive structures and benefits so as to encourage the sharing of information within scientific establishments and with the outside world also needs to be considered in this context.

When asked what was one of the highlights of the Science Forum 2009, Timothy Kelley, Senior Officer at the Science Council Secretariat emphasized the diversity of the participants. “It was impressive how the Science Forum 2009 was able to pull together people from diverse backgrounds and institutions. Being able to have that kind of varied perspective and interaction made this very beneficial.”

World Congress on Computers in Agriculture (WCCA 2009)

At the World Congress of Computers in Agriculture and Natural Resources (WCCA) and the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) held at Reno, Nevada, USA,where Ajit Maru represented GFAR and presented GFARs experiences in building global and regional information systems for agricultural, a vast array of uses of ICTs and advances in information sciences for agriculture were presented and discussed. The trend was around tailoring ICTs to contribute to improving agricultural production and productivity, making food safer and contributing to more effective and sustainable use of natural resources and agricultural products.

During the WCCA Keynote presentation Prof. Gehard Schiefer posed the question whether the issue for agricultural scientists was adoption of ICTs or the development of new ICTs. Using the example of ensuring food safety in today’s food chains, he presented a convincing argument that existing ICTs fall short of ensuring food safety in complex food chains. He recommended that the world needs new ICTs, especially those that seamlessly work with temporal and spatial data related to food as it moves in complex chains around the world before being consumed. Also needed were new Institutions that help aggregate and connect millions of small producers, processors and market intermediaries with data about what they produce and process so that consumers around the world are ensured of the safety of the food they consume. While adoption of ICTs was an issue, Prof. Schiefer considered the need to develop new ICTs that meet existing and emerging challenges as a more important and a higher priority issue.


In the coming weeks, we look forward to reading about the outcomes developed from the Science Forum, and ways in which the results of this Forum can be cohesively integrated into the GCARD process.

To read more about the Science Forum 2009, check out the Science Forum pages on the CGIAR website here and read opinions in the ICT-KM blog (scroll down to the Science Forum section) by clicking on the link below.