Collaboration on Rice Data Interoperability - an Interview with Shaik N. Meera

What is your background and how about your current activities?

I have started working on ICT enabled agricultural extension since my PhD at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute. Since then, I have been passionate about working on digital opportunities for freely shared data, information and knowledge for better livelihoods in farm sector.

I currently work for the Agricultural Research Service of India as Senior Scientist at Indian Institute of Rice Research which is part of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).  I am coordinating the Rice Knowledge Management Portal that shares rice data sets, information and knowledge freely among the stakeholder’s organizations. Right now we have digitized 16,000 pages of related contextualized and local language knowledge from texts, audio resources and videos. Additionally to this, I coordinate scientific demonstrations on farmer’s fields touching the lives of thousands of rice farmers directly. I am internationally collaborating with other Rice Institutions like the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippines for evolving innovative extension methods. I have received several awards for the work carried out in last one and half decade.

And your connection to the RDA Agricultural Data Interest Group (IGAD)?

I was invited by the organizers of IGAD to participate in the IGAD pre-meeting because of its focus on rice research data and it is my first time to attend. In my organization we felt that RDA/IGAD can provide us some opportunity to work on international data standards and to discover how we can best make our data interoperable and freely shared across platforms.

The national Indian Rice Knowledge Management Portal ( that you are managing is considered to be one of the largest repositories of knowledge and data on rice crops across the globe. How can the IGAD support your work? What are your expectations from this meeting?

Linking data bases and platforms within an organization might be easy, but when it comes to Big Data from different stakeholder organizations we need to align our work to international standards, especially to those that are developed in groups like IGAD/RDA. In this regard the Wheat Data Interoperability Working Group has to be mentioned that developed a common framework to describe wheat data. This meeting is a good opportunity to start the development of a similar framework within the rice data community.

The visibility of our rice portal will be improved with these standards which will especially benefit the linking of rice ontologies to community intelligence, agricultural activities and production management at farmer’s level.

Furthermore the meeting supports us to discover what is done by other international communities in regard to rice or farmer’s data and semantics.

The Rice Knowledge Management Portal has more than 27000 datasets of rice research data from last 50 years in India. Are these datasets already shared with researchers in other countries, especially in Asia where rice is the main food?

The Rice Knowledge Management Portal is addressing research organizations who work within the rice research domain. The portal is an umbrella for different platforms and topics such as the data repository, AICRIP-intranet, the bioinformatics tool as well as the presentation of research teams, rice research in India, research tools and techniques. We share a big amount of data and information related to rice research freely on the portal with both public and private sector researchers.

For our data repository we have digitalized 27000 datasets from 50 years of coordinated rice research trials conducted across India. The data is ordered by year, discipline and trial. Although the repository addresses mainly Indian researchers, we work closely with IRRI to exchange knowledge and data related to rice. We have also worked with ICRISAT and other International organizations.

Why  do you think the Rice research and extension organizations should be joining hands with IGAD?

Today global rice research is actually an ensemble of Consortium Research Projects, and is LESS a network of stand-alone institutes. The boundaries between national, regional and and global players are blurring.

On the other hand Open Access  movements are bypassing AR4D even as policy makers are developing interest in them. Research organizations need to develop specific strategies and measures to create repositories that quickly communicate with each other.

This warrants building a common framework/ standard for rice data, information sharing. For this all the organizations need to join the hands with IGAD. Of course we have created a working group on Rice Data Interoperability and organizations/ individuals are free to join.

What may be the primary focus of Rice Data Interoperability group?

We need to understand ongoing data sharing initiatives across the globe first. This requires a through a community survey involving a range of stakeholder organizations. The rice research data exists in different formats and languages. In this circumstance, can we create  a prototype data registry for test in line with IRRI?

Semantics and developing a framework for a Rice ontology is one step that should get immediate attention. For example for rice portal, we could effectively tag more than 2500 vocabulary (ricevocs, we called it then) for making it a first  semantic portal on rice.  But for rice research data sharing, lot of efforts are required to build rice ontologies , thesauri, controlled vocabulary and prospects of the multi-lingual conversion of ontologies. The goal is challenging, but the pathways are clear.

What are the biggest challenges in connecting Indian National Agricultural Research Systems with other initiatives? What can be done to ensure a better exchange of data, especially in the case of rice research?

The biggest challenges are still related to data interoperability and fragmented sources of data. There is the lack of awareness of international standards and individual solutions are often not complying. Especially the handling of big data in terms of interoperability is still an issue and not aligned to common standards.

Another challenge is to showcase the impact of research data standards on the ground and translate research data into farmer’s data respective the exchange of information into farmer’s knowledge.

A first step to confront these challenges is to develop a commonly shared ideology or vision to freely share data. Furthermore researchers need to encode common frameworks that enable the collaboration with large organizations who work with rice data. This would especially benefit Indian rice researchers.