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Moving towards open access database

As a phrase, ‘data is the new oil’ becomes more and more popular, I often wondered about the impact of data governance and sharing practices in agriculture. 

With the growing concern of people on big data, open data access and workshops about data sharing and data revolutions on farming, my wonder was obvious. I wished to know more about the ways which support data sharing among different stakeholders so that the data in agriculture could reach everyone involved. 

Luckily, I got an opportunity to participate in recently held Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) Symposium on Agricultural Science Data Sharing and Services at National Agricultural Library, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) on December 7-9, 2017. As a graduate in agricultural studies and enthusiast working voluntarily in agricultural research development at YPARD Nepal as a Regional coordinator (Lamjung Agricultural Campus), this symposium was a subject of interest to me. I am very thankful to the Dinesh Panday- YPARD Nepal Representative, Jieying Bi- YPARD Asia and Pacific Coordinator, and Dr. Mo Wang from the organizing committee who provided me this opportunity and it was a matter of pride to represent YPARD. 

Symposium organizer 

APEC symposium brought together over thirty participants from fifteen countries with the objective of breaking the barriers of agricultural science data sharing to achieve the interconnection, cooperation and development of APEC economies. It was held as per the annual work plan of Agricultural Technical Cooperation Working Group (ACTWG).  It has been imperative to share APEC economies’ experiences, strengthen coordination, and learn better research and monitoring methods in agricultural data sharing. 

The symposium was supported by China-APEC Cooperation Fund of the Ministry of Finance and hosted by Agricultural Information Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. The officials and scholars from relevant ministries of China, research institutions, universities, and international organizations shared their views and insights with researchers in the field of agriculture sciences, data science, and data curators.

Starting with the best practices

The symposium started with an opening ceremony in the presence of Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Agriculture, and Ministry of Foreign affairs of China. Keynote speeches highlighted the global initiatives of open agricultural data sharing and services. The presentation about the best practices in geosciences data sharing discussed case about the National Earth System Science data sharing structure in China.

The presentation when stressed about the prospects of big data era, I was amused that how far the developed countries have come regarding the big data and also kept wondering if developing country like, Nepal will be able to reach there someday. 

After the presentations for day one summed up, I actively took part in the discussions with the other participants about the data sharing practices in their countries. The discussions among participants implied that while some APEC economies have made remarkable progress towards agricultural data sharing, others are still progressing. 

Details about data sharing and management

The second day focused on presentations about the data sharing mode and management brought light to the data sharing and management being followed on China. Sharing data on the cloud and big data management framework towards knowledge computing were two of the impressive management of data which can be practiced widely. 

The presentation of the scientific data and literature linkages was especially helpful to students like me. The literature collection system of Chinese Academy of Sciences was wonderful and we were astonished by the vast collection of open academic journals, electronic literature and institutional repositories. 

Later, the publication policies in developed and developing countries were discussed and shared by different participants among each other. Participants were mostly focused on the data security and its reusability during the publication and open data access.

Participants sharing the practices

Data analysis was the theme of the third day and presentations where multi-dimensional information, visualization of scientific data, data security and data mining were presented. The country representative from different agricultural institutions, government officials and organizations of different countries gave speeches about the data sharing practices in their respective institutions and country as a whole.  

The data sharing practices and development of different countries like Nepal, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Russia, Egypt, Philippines and Chile were presented by the representative of each country.  My colleague from Nepal and I presented the data sharing system and practices, commonly used in Nepal.  

We talked about the data flow system of Nepal, institutes involved in the practices, and how the government is still the main source of data and most data are still not open for public access. All the fellow participants were interested to learn about the practices in Nepal. They were concerned on the matter that there are still not many research institutes/ information institutes for data sharing in Nepal. Later, we discussed with Director of Agriculture Information Institute (AII)-CAAS about how AII can help us move forward in agriculture data sharing practices.

The moment for the proposal call

One of the biggest moments in the symposium was when the Director of the AII-CAAS, Jian Wang made a call for building the APEC Agricultural Data Union.  AII-CAAS is taking lead in the initiative of building APEC agricultural data union with the promise to provide the operational and technical support in working with the attendees and their organizations to expand agricultural scientific data center (Agridata) network in APEC region. The attendees agreed on three points below:

  • Being an active participant of Agridata to share ideas, data and other useful resources, and promote the cooperation between Agridata, and other ASD organizations in APEC member economies. 
  • Being an active contributor to the construction of APEC Agricultural Data union.
  • Acting as a contact point for the attendee’s organization in the process of building the Agricultural Data Union. 

What Now?

The symposium has made me a strong believer that the open, free and active network for agricultural scientific data is a need for a sustainable development in farming practices and agriculture as a whole. 

Developing countries have much to gain from the formation of open data policies.It was historic to be present on that moment applauding the call as one of the initiators of this work. I am really hopeful that we can make use of this call. We can see the prospects of forming an Agricultural Data Union within YPARD or other Youth organizations.

As an attendee of the symposium and initiator of the Agricultural Data Union, I can facilitate about the formation of data union and act as a medium to the youth organizations and institutes in Nepal to form an Agricultural Data Union which will be supported by AII-CAAS. In the meantime, I would also like to encourage youths and professionals in agriculture to make use of Agridata network and open data access. 

Wrapping up 

Besides learning a lot about the agricultural data sharing advances from the symposium and coming back to the country with new hopes of forming the Agricultural Data Union for open data access, I also had a lifetime experience of the Great Wall tour! The wonderful hospitality of CAAS and the beautiful Beijing city will always be remembered. 

Meeting up with YPARD members from China, Bangladesh and Philippines was an added benefit to us where we took time out to discuss different YPARD activities carried out in our countries. Once and for all, my trip to China was extremely informative and full of fun.


Photo credit: Dr. Mo Wang