To share data, shared understanding of meaning and unambiguous terminology is needed. Since the early 1980's, FAO has supported the standardization and enhancement of discoverability of food and agricultural data to enrich the knowledge sharing, visibility of and access to data through the publication of AGROVOC, a controlled vocabulary covering all areas of interest of FAO.
Hierarchical relations between concepts are expressed by the predicates skos:broader and skos:narrower. Non-hierarchical relations express a notion of “relatedness” between concepts. AGROVOC uses the SKOS relation skos:related (corresponding to the classical thesaurus RT), and a specific vocabulary of relations called Agrontology. AGROVOC also allows for relations between labels (i.e. terms), thanks to the SKOS-XL extension to SKOS.
AGROVOC as multi-scheme hub
AGROVOC is edited through the web-based platform VocBench 3, an advanced collaboration environment for maintaining thesauri, ontologies, code lists and authority resources, providing features such as history, validation, a publication workflow, and multi-user management with role-based access control. This also allows for distributed editing with an international network of contributing institutions.
Since 2019, and with the collaboration of the Artificial Intelligence (ART) Research Group at Tor Vergata University (Italy), the management of specialized concept schemes is possible within AGROVOC. VocBench 3 supports the use of hierarchical relation properties that are specific to a scheme.
When a concept is modified (e.g. adding or changing a translation) in a given scheme, the data is not only edited for that scheme, but the data associated to a concept and such update will now be seen in all schemes which include this concept.
This opens for some interesting collaborations with specialized communities that can benefit of the AGROVOC infrastructure: embedding their vocabularies within AGROVOC, enriching AGROVOC, while maintaining the possibility for separate entity, exports and display. In practical terms, every single concept used by any of the schemes is part of the AGROVOC Thesaurus and has AGROVOC URIs.
The engagement with specialized communities is helping AGROVOC to enhance the quality of AGROVOC content, while the new schemes benefit from the AGROVOC community of editors, e.g. translations and quality control.
This supports agricultural sciences to become more FAIR.
Currently, AGROVOC includes three new schemes:
Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries represented by ASFA, coordinated by the ASFA secretariat at FAO.
Legislative and Policy concepts in the FAO’s areas of interest represented by FAOLEX, coordinated by FAOLex Team.
AGROVOC as multi-hierarchy vocabulary
The main consideration when dealing with multi schemes in AGROVOC is that each concept always belongs to the main scheme (AGROVOC), and it must be in a specific place within the AGROVOC hierarchy. However, each scheme might want to use different hierarchy models.
AGROVOC offers a flexible environment where schemes can define additional hierarchical relationships among concepts, independent of AGROVOC hierarchy. This means that a controlled vocabulary can be viewed flexibly and edited with its customized relations, or exported with a generic SKOS hierarchy of broader and narrower relations, without changing the hierarchy of AGROVOC itself.
When a concept URI (URI resolution) is being automatically resolved, the displayed data is related to the AGROVOC concept. Therefore the displayed hierarchy will be from the AGROVOC main scheme. The rest of scheme specific hierarchical relations will not be visible.
Available on request, however each scheme can be viewed flexibly and separately, edited with its customized relations, or exported with a generic SKOS.
Benefits of using AGROVOC
This new AGROVOC paradigm can be useful for smaller specialized technical vocabularies to leverage semantic technologies and linked open data. More schemes for vocabularies related to food, nutrition, agriculture and other areas which fit into AGROVOC can be added in the future. Organizations maintaining such a vocabulary are invited to contact us to evaluate the options for including their scheme into AGROVOC.
In the Future
In the future, it is possible for more schemes to be added for vocabularies related to food, nutrition, agriculture and other relevant areas that fit into AGROVOC. Organizations maintaining any such vocabularies are invited and encouraged to contact Agrovoc@fao.org to evaluate options for including a new scheme into AGROVOC.