Tell us something about yourself... what is your background and role in the organization you are working for?
Having taught ‘Agricultural Systems’ and ‘Computer applications in Agriculture’ at the University of Mauritius, I started applying the 'systems' approach to the development of information systems in agriculture. This experience has taken me from sharing my conceptual models of institutional systems to conceptualizing national systems as I joined the Food and Agricultural Research Council. Between 2006-2010, I was based at the SADCSecretariat, as part of the EU-funded ICARTproject, helping my peers in 15 countries develop strategies and systems to manage agricultural information, contributing to the SADC-Agricultural Management Information Systems Programme. I was also able to interact at regional level with International Cooperating Partners such as FARA, GFAR , FAO & the ICT-KM program of the CG as part of the CIARD initiative. Since January 2011, I am back at the Food and Agricultural Council in Mauritius, attempting to validate the fact that, through the new ICTs, one can still be active at regional and global level while being based within a national institution.
How did you get in contact with AIMS?
I came across the AIMS website back in 2005-06 when I was looking for standards in agricultural information management. I was very pleased to see that there was a group of people already proposing to work on a set of standards for information management with the scope of interoperability, ranging from how to organise information about experts to statistical datasets. I tried to understand more about the terms being used like Dublin Core, ontologies, semantics, metadata harvesting etc. but got a bit lost. I later got acquainted with some of the people working on these issues, but they still use a complex language that is sometimes hard for a newcomer to understand.
What is your opinion on AIMS?
I was very enthusiastic about the set of standards that AIMS proposed to develop in 8-9 categories of information in 2006. It comforted me that I was not alone reflecting on these issues. However, progress seemed to be focused more on issues such as feeds and vocabularies. More recently there has been more explanatory information on issues like Open Access which enables a non-expert to better understand the topics AIMS is dealing with. Presentations and explanations of the concepts being dealt with, catering for the ‘newbie’ to standards, should be encouraged. This could be done through the user community forums and by linking the site to related information management initiatives– enabling more people to appreciate the issues and contribute to the implementation of standards.
According to you, what is the most important benefit that AIMS provides to the agricultural information management community?
AIMS provides a sense of direction and guidance on the tools that can be used for implementation of standards. Providing more information on standards on varying levels of users can only improve the impact the available information resources will have on the community. The Newsletter is a refreshing and useful channel to put the developments in this area into an ‘easier’ language to understand and bring the readers to re-visit their actions and contributions to the community.
How do you think that information management standards can contribute to agricultural research for development?
We are living in an era in which the inter-dependence of ‘speciality’ areas and scientific disciplines has been realized, hence the increasing need for multi-disciplinary teams and skills. The focus is now on how to also dovetail the information and knowledge resources of those disciplines. Agriculture is already a complex subject, but the development of standards, with the concept of inter-operability constantly in the background, can help us pool our knowledge in a more effective manner. Nevertheless, this requires constant dialogue on the issue of standards among technicians, but also better communication of the initiatives and standards with the non-technical stakeholders – a responsibility that can be borne by the AIMS community.