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At the request of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Cornell University's Albert R. Mann Library has organized an International Symposium on Agricultural Education and Information Systems comprised of two workshops: Part 1 on Knowledge Systems and Part 2 on Delivery Systems. The second workshop on Delivery Systems was held at Livingstone, Zambia, November 11 to 16, 2007. I (Anthere/Florence Devouard) was invited to participate as a key resource person at the Zambia workshop.
Building human and institutional capacity is key to long-term development in Africa and Asia. Improving agricultural knowledge and information systems is a promising avenue to improve the livelihoods of smallholder producers and promote long-term development in Africa and Asia. Many initiatives have made progress in terms of how information is prepared, presented and distributed, however, there is still the opportunity to take advantage of new information technology to build the content and facilitate the timely delivery of agricultural education and information in Asia and Africa. This means finding ways to improve visibility of existing research and extension initiatives and to capture community-based and local-level information, allowing information to flow in multiple directions. New technologies and collaborative social networking systems offer exciting new opportunities.
To this end, Mann Library at Cornell University has brought together leaders in agricultural education and extension in Asia and Africa and experts on emerging collaborative technologies, along with representatives of advocacy NGOs, policymakers, and farmers to discuss current and optimal practices in agricultural education in rural areas of Asia and Africa.
The meeting was not a conference; it is a series of hands-on, working sessions in which participants were expected to participate actively to come up with ideas for how to best take advantage of new IT technologies to identify, develop where necessary, and provide agricultural information to people who need it.
This has been a very interesting week, with numerous opportunities to share information and ideas with numerous participants from all over the world. Aside from big chunks of time dedicated to drafting proposals for grants, the workshop also featured several presentations from the participants (Wikimedia projects were formally presented) and a visit to a rural community. Some free time also permitted to get a glimpse of the Victoria Falls, participate to a short tour in a local park, and enjoy a cruise on the nearest river. Some images already available on Commons. I gave some feedback on my visit in a SignPost interview as well.
At the end of the workshop, a proposal was outlined and has been sent to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This proposal is currently under scrutiny. Let's hope it gets some funding !
Agricultural students, faculty, extension staff, community knowledge workers and farmers in South Asia and Africa often do not have access to high quality, relevant educational content, including handbooks, textbooks and training materials. Information resources are often missing, out of date, too expensive, targeted to a research-level audience, not relevant to local conditions, or not available in local languages. This is particularly true for information related to agricultural practices relevant to community knowledge workers and women smallholder farmers. Conversely, their valuable knowledge is often not fed back into the educational system.
This project envisions an online digital library which can address these shortcomings by facilitating the collaborative production of freely-licensed agricultural content. The content modules would be available for aggregation into handbooks, textbooks, and other agricultural educational materials, as well as made available in offline versions, such as PDFs, printed versions, CDs, cell phone versions, etc. This user-generated-content system will involve participants from all segments of the information ecology, at both the global and local level. The content creation will occur on a wiki-based platform to allow the information to be easily developed, modified, and updated. The process itself will be open, transparent, flexible, and would include the support of content creation facilitators in the early stages, as well as a validation stage.
More information on the workshop (blog, participants list etc...) may be found on the worldaginfo website: http://www.worldaginfo.org/ here