Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Oman Workshop 2008 :Strengthening National Information Communication Management Focal Units in Near East Region

The proceeding of the workshop is available here

Background and Introduction

1. The agricultural sector represents a major part of the economies of the many of the countries in the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region, and yet it remains a vulnerable sector. The potential for increasing agricultural outputs in the region is great. Crop and livestock yields under farmers' conditions are markedly lower than results obtained under comparable conditions elsewhere. The durable solution for improving agricultural performance in the countries of the region depends largely on the transformation of its agriculture research and development systems to render it capable of generating and transferring productivity enhancing technologies.

2. However, agricultural development in the NENA region continues to be hampered by relatively poor access to and ineffective exchange of knowledge and information, which are contribute to poverty eradication, food security, sustainable development and increased productivity and competitiveness. Yet, science-based agricultural systems have delivered real benefits to farmers, processors and consumers through the development and implementation of new knowledge exchange systems. Policy makers need to understand national needs, capacities,
agricultural production, and other information to plan for agricultural development and the
research to support it. In the research sector itself, scientists need to keep themselves up-to-date with international research.

3. Modern Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have introduced a new
dimension and, if properly applied, can help in promoting knowledge and information exchange.
Knowledge-based systems and decision support technologies can be used to allow the various
stakeholder groups to encapsulate technical information that they generate in a suitable form to
make it available to others. Web-based technologies can be used to create platform-independent
systems that can be accessed remotely, either interactively online or in passive mode offline.
Internet connectivity allows dissemination of information and knowledge within regions, and
can give instant access to global information and knowledge resources.

4. AARINENA has recognized for some time the value of expanding the use of modern ICTs in
agricultural research for development in NENA Region will facilitate the exchange of
information and knowledge among certain key stakeholders, and thereby facilitate the
sustainable development of the region. To this end, the AARINENA Executive Committee
agreed in December 2001 to establish a Regional Agricultural Information System (RAIS), and
approved the proposal of Agricultural Research and Education Organization (AREO), Iran, to
host the AARINENA-RAIS Secretariat. The RAIS serves as an information repository and
exchange mechanism at the regional level, aiming to strengthen, coordinate, and add value to
initiatives by national programs and those coordinated by regional and international
organizations. The RAIS stakeholders included National Agriculture Research Systems
(NARSs), Advanced Research Institutions (ARIs), Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs),
International Agriculture Research Centers (IARCs), the private sector, farmers' organizations,
and development assistance agencies.

5. AARINENA, in collaboration with the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) and the
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), has worked to establish the RAIS through a series of
technical consultations and workshops. The first of these was held at the AARINENA 7th
General Conference in Beirut in March 2000 which approved the Regional Information Strategy
for Agricultural Research Development, followed by an expert consultation meeting in Cairo in
7 October 2000 to develop a plan for implementation of this strategy for the NENA region. The
plan included preparation of a project proposal to develop the RAIS and establishment of a web
site. The AARINENA website has been operational since July 2002 hosted by AREO, Iran as a
portal containing useful information, related to national agricultural research organizations and
universities, as well as to NGOs, and farmers' organizations in the region. The Arabic version of
the website was enhanced in collaboration with FAO/RNE.

6. The AARINENA ICT–RAIS Steering Committee was established in February 2003. The
Committee included the representatives of the five AARINENA sub-regions (West Asian, North
African, Arabian Peninsula, Nile valley and Red Sea, and Mashreq sub-region) and from FAO,
ICARDA, AOAD, GFAR and latterly Bioversity International.

7. At the ICT Inter-regional meeting held at Cairo, May 2005, the National Agricultural
Information Systems (NAIS) were recognized as the building blocks of the RAIS providing
information on institutions, experts, research projects and, research outputs, as well as
contributing to international systems.

8. The main constraints affecting the building of an efficient RAIS were identified as being weak
national capacities in information and communication management and technology (ICM/T) in
many of the AARINENA member countries, and a lack of cooperation and coordination
between the member countries. The need to strengthen NAIS was also identified as a
prerequisite to strengthening the RAIS.

9. The Central Lab for Agricultural Expert Systems (CLAES), Egypt, developed a project on a
“National Agricultural Research Information Management System” (NARIMS), with the
support of FAO, between July 2004 and July 2006. CLAES then put in place a second phase
focused on development of the NARIMS tools in 2007, with the support of GFAR.

10. In May 2007, the AARINENA Executive Committee and the ICT-RAIS Steering Committee
both endorsed the establishment of a Near East Rural and Agricultural Knowledge and
Information Network (NERAKIN), as proposed by FAO. Representatives from member
countries were introduced to the concept during a workshop on “Information Systems for
Agricultural Research for Development” organized by AARINENA in Cairo from May 2007.
The NERAKIN platform has been adopted by AARINENA, with continuing facilitation by
FAO and support from GFAR, taking into consideration the following factors: (1) NERAKIN is
complementary to and strengthening the existing RAIS and its governance structure; (2)
AARINENA is responsible for monitoring of the network; and (3) the activities of the network
must be NARS-driven.

11. The ICT-RAIS Steering Committee held its third meeting in Amman in 2006, where new
members were elected and a three year work plan was agreed. Establishment of National
Information Focal Units (NIFUs) in each country was identified as a high priority.

12. The fourth meeting of the ICT-RAIS Steering Committee in May 30, 2007 agreed on the need for development of the capacity of NIFUs, starting with a workshop to be conducted in Oman in 2008.

13. On this basis, AARINENA with support from FAO and GFAR organized a regional training
8 workshop on “Strengthening National Information Communication Management/Technology
(ICM/ICT) Focal Units in Near East and North Africa”, from 8 – 10 January 2008 in Muscat,
Oman. The workshop was hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock under the
auspices of H.E. Eng. Khalfan Saleh Al-Naabi, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Livestock of
the Sultanate of Oman, with the participation of information management specialists from
NIFUs in 11 countries (Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Morocco, Sudan, Syria,
Tunisia, and Yemen).

14. This regional workshop was designed to strengthen the capabilities of representatives of NIFUs for analysing the situations of their NAIS, and to use their national experiences to identify strengths, weaknesses, and threats/challenges affecting seven key areas influencing development of NAIS, namely: (i) strategy/policy, (ii) institutional aspects, (iii) stakeholders, (iv) content, (v) people, (vi) infrastructure, and (vii) financial aspects. Possible solutions for the key weaknesses and threats/challenges were defined by participants. Finally, the countries’ priorities for early implementation were identified drawing on the list of solutions/ recommendations in their own contexts. The regional workshop was also designed to follow-up on the progress made on the NERAKIN knowledge sharing and collaboration platform, in terms of providing training to the stakeholders in the region.

Regional Training Workshop

Next week we will have a Regional Training Workshop on
”Building National Information Management and Knowledge Exchange Capacities
for Agricultural Research for Development in Near East Region". This workshop will organize by AARINENA, FAO, GFAR & ICARDA in Cairo, Egypt from 17 to 20 May 2009.

You can find more information here