"Researchers are asked to respond to challenge (s) of feeding the world, ...to confront these, scientist need data".

Esther DZAKE YEUMO works for the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) as a senior project manager. She is involved in the Research Data Alliance (RDA) and has thus joined a community of scientists who wish to make agricultural data, information, and knowledge more accessible. Her fields of expertise include data management and the Semantic Web. In this capacity, she is co-chair of the Wheat Data Interoperability Working Group (WDI) within the RDA. AIMS invited her to share some of her views on the current developments and work taking place within the context of the RDA and WDI.

Could you explain the choice of Wheat Data Interoperability as the name for the working group and its focus on wheat data?

One important reason is that we had been working on a specific issue that could be addressed within an 18-month period, as required by RDA.

Researchers in the fields of agriculture, food production, and nutrition are being asked to respond to many societal challenges: feeding the world, dealing with climate change, developing sustainable agricultural practices, and promoting health and nutrition. To confront these challenges, scientists need data. I think there is a fair amount of agreement in the research community that there is a need to share data across disciplines, organizations, and countries.

But simply sharing data is not enough. We need to share data that have context (accompanied by documentation, semantics, and links, for example), which will allow others to easily understand and reuse them. This is where the interoperability issue comes in. As stated in the European Interoperability Framework (EIF): “An interoperability framework is an agreed approach to interoperability for organizations that wish to work together towards the joint delivery of public services. Within its scope of applicability, it specifies a set of common elements such as vocabulary, concepts, principles, policies, guidelines, recommendations, standards, specifications and practices.”

Why focus on wheat?

INRA is leading the international Wheat Initiative, which was started in September of 2011. The Wheat Initiative aims to coordinate research efforts in the fields of wheat genetics, genomics, physiology, breeding, and agronomy. The Wheat Initiative has been working towards launching a project to build an integrated information system. So, there was an opportunity to base the working group’s project on a real-life scenario.

The second reason is that wheat is one of the main staple crops in the world. According to the Wheat Initiative web site , "It is the second most important food crop in the developing world after rice. In the past decades, wheat production levels did not satisfy demand, triggering price instability and hunger riots." So, it sounds like good data sharing practices could help researchers face challenges like food security and that prioritizing the sharing of wheat data might be a good choice.

How is the work of the WDI carried out and who handles its different roles?

The work group is co-chaired by Richard Fulss, who is Head of Knowledge Management at CIMMYT (the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre based in Mexico), and myself. We all work pro bono. In addition to collaborative work and online meetings, we try to organize face-to-face meetings during RDA plenaries.

What are the expected achievements and deliverables in the months ahead, any anticipated steps?

The next steps will consist of:
  • Discussing relevant issues with wheat data experts: the goal is to identify the minimum set of properties that should characterize datasets of each data type to ensure meaningful data sharing, identify the gaps in standards that remain to be filled, and come up with recommendations for data formats and metadata standards. We are planning to hold a 1-2 day workshop with wheat data experts before the end of October.
  • Writing a cookbook that will provide guidelines for wheat data description and representation. We will base our methodology on that used by the FAO to create the LODE-BD recommendations