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Pacific agricultural information system

A partnership of organisations across the region

       
 
 
 
About Us

PAIS has a rather longer history than you might believe. It's certainly no overnight sensation! So if you are sitting comfortably, we'll tell you a story ...

A long, long time ago – in December 1991 to be exact – the then South Pacific Commision (SPC) was running an Agriculture Librarians' Workshop in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. At the conclusion of this workshop, participants engaged in a bit of an exercise where they envisioned a future: the future was one of shared information resources. A few years later, in June 1996, the Pacific Regional Agricultural Programme (PRAP) held a workshop at Tavilo, East New Britain (PNG), on the subject of selective dissemination of information. Curiously, the issue of information sharing was again raised, and all the participants (including many who had been at the 1991 workshop) agreed that what PNG needed was an agricultural information network.

Nothing really happened to this idea of a network until an Australian Government-funded project in PNG, the Australian Contribution to a National Agricultural Research System (ACNARS) commenced in around 1998. In 1999, with the recruitment of an information adviser, Peter Walton, who had been behind both the 1991 and 1996 workshops. Peter's brief was to design a 'library catalogue database system' for the new National Agriculture Research Institute (NARI) which grew out of the research division of the national Department of Agriculture and Livestock (DAL). NARI was a multi-site institution, in a country not at the time renown for high-speed internet networks, so any solution had to take cognisance of the operating environment. The solution was to use DB/TextWorks (from Inmagic, Inc) on a series of standalone computers (one per site) but yet to develop a co-operative, centralised library catalogue database. The most primitive of means – text files sent as email attachments – was used to circulate records so that no matter which site was visited, the database was identical.

Once the design proved itself, the information system went live in October 2001, with two partner organisations! How that happened was that the then Coffee Research Institute (CRI) in the Aiyura Valley, Eastern Highlands, already shared a library with what was once the DAL Highlands Agriculture Experiment Station, also at Aiyura. Not unreasonably, CRI said, 'What about us?', and so was born the first information-sharing partnership.

It wasn't long before other R&D organisations in the agriculture sector began to ask the same question, 'What about us?' and so in late 2004, early 2005, a series of consultations were held to devise a strategy for the development of what became the PNG National Agricultural Information System, or NAIS (spoken in Melanesian pidgin, it rhymes with 'nice'!). The project, ACNARS, came to the fore, and provided funds for additional software and training, and ultimately five other organisations joined NARI and the Coffee Industry Corporation (the new parent body for CRI): Cocoa Coconut Institute; Department of Agriculture and Livestock; New Britain Palm Oil Ltd, Ramu Sugar Ltd (now Ramu Agri-Industries Ltd, a division of NBPOL); and PNG Oil Palm Research Association.

Collectively, the seven NAIS partners represented just about every type of organisation in the agriculture sector (except NGOs and farmers' associations), and had a presence in just about every one of the 19 provinces and National Capital District (Port Moresby). The partners also comprised 18 separate library collections. What started out in 2001 as a bibliographic database of 17,827 records derived largely from the ANU Land Management Group-developed PNG Agriculture Bibliography, existing library databases in PNG and records from the South Pacific Commission Agriculture Library had grown in size to 20,204 records.

The ACNARS project completed in 2006, but development of NAIS continued led by PNG nationals, not just as a library catalogue or even a bibliographic database, but as a source of agricultural information in a wide range of formats. Electronic copies of publications recorded were obtained where possible and were made accessible via the bibliographic database. This was a great way of disseminating publications. The bibliographic databases were distributed in a read-only format around PNG, but updating these was not easy. The other dimension that was explored, at least in prototype, was a series of integrated databases to capture information on researchers, research projects and research & development institutions in PNG.

The full story of NAIS to this point is available in a paper written by Peter Walton and published in Agriculture Information Worldwide (2:1,  2009, pp. 19–24). A free download is available here.

What happened next was that under the World Bank-funded Rural Development Programme (RDP), the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock in Solomon Islands wanted to have a better way of managing their agricultural information, and as adviser, Peter Walton naturally turned to NAIS. As a successful model, NAIS was tailor-made for the Solomons, with its similar environment and constraints. Most of the data was stripped out from NAIS, the architecture and operational methodology retained, and thus in 2009 was born SoNAIS, the Solomons National Agricultural Information System. As foundation partners, the Ministry and a local NGO, Kastom Gaden Association, were the initial drivers.

New functionalities were added and changes to operating instructions implemented not just for SoNAIS but also NAIS. It was clear to anyone, that both these systems ought to merge as one (it was perhaps not the best strategy to replicate NAIS for the Solomons, but at the time it made sense). At the end of 2009, there was a joint meeting/workshop of all NAIS and SoNAIS operators, hosted by NARI in their new training centre at Bubia 10 Miles (near Lae, PNG) and funded by the EU–ACP Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA). Curiously, CTA were the original funders of the 1991 Agriculture Librarians' Workshop! One of the main outcomes of the meeting was a commitment for organisations in both countries to work together.

In 2010, NARI successfuly bid for a grant from the EU–ACP Science & Technology Programme the basis of which was a framewok for co-operation between agricultural research organisations in PNG, the Solomons and Vanuatu. NARI's partners included most of the NAIS/SoNAIS organisations, and one of the actions to be funded was a 'regional agricultural information system'. At this point, a round of consultations began in PNG and the Solomons as to the technical requirements for a regional system. Primarily, it was agreed that what became known as the Melanesian Agricultural Information System (MAIS) should continue to build its bibliographic database capacity, with an emphasis on document delivery in electronic format where feasible, as an online resource. At the same time, the prototype developed back in 2005 for non-bibliographic databases on people, projects and organisations – a kind or research management information system – should be further developed and put online.

So it was, that in April 2011, a whole new set of databases became part of MAIS, to answer questions such as Who is doing what? Where? How and why? And with/for whom? The focus is on research and development activities across Melanesia, in the agriculture, forestry, fisheries and environment sector. With the impact of climate change on agriculture, the organisations were insistent on these linkages. A prototype of MAIS was launched in December 2011, with significant support from Maxus Australia Pty Ltd (Inmagic resellers).

Funds to mount MAIS online on a stable platform were not forthcoming. Luckily, in June 2013 the Solomon Islands Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock identified funds for what it considered to be an important initiative. Those funds  made it possible to relaunch MAIS (as SoNAIS, all the content is MAIS; there are no fewer records nor any less information). Sadly, there were no funds to continue this venture. Maxus again came to the rescue, and enable a demo version of MAIS to be available online from the beginning of 2016.

At the end of 2015, a Regional Research–Extension Forum was convened by SPC (now known as The Pacific Community) under the EU-funded Pacific Agricultural Policy Project (PAPP). The Forum agreed that there was a need to develop an e-platform for the newly reinvigorated Pacific Islands Rural Advisory Service (PIRAS). When SPC came to look at the requirements for the e-platform, it was quickly realised that MAIS fulfilled most of the needs, i.e. that the functionality was already in place or was possible. As a consequence, SPC through PAPP is supporting the evolution of MAIS to PAIS – the Pacific Agricultural Information System – something that was, curiously, envisaged back in 1988/89!

The current status of the redesign is that the Document (bibliographic) component of PAIS, now comprising over 37,000 records is accessible online (as a demo only). The offline system has about 1,300 linked electronic documents and some of these (copyright permitting) will be made accessible via the online system very shortly. Data for inclusion in the Activities (projects) component of PAIS is being added by staff in various organisations across the region, in order to test the system. This data will be made available online as soon as possible. Records will be updated frequently (possibly monthly), which will be more than adequate for a start.

For more information about this project, contact the PAIS adviser (peter.walton-at-stackyard.net).

Peter Walton
12 December 2016


 
 

TIMELINE

 
December 2016
With support from PAPP and Maxis, launch of demo version of PAIS online

June 2013
Launch of SoNAIS online

December 2011
Launch of prototype online version of MAIS

October 2011
Prototype for a series of MAIS non-bibliographic databases developed

April 2011
NAIS and SoNAIS databases merged into single MAIS bibliographic database

March 2011
Consultation for Melanesian Agricultural Information System – MAIS

December 2009
First Joint NAIS/SoNAIS Workshop

August 2009
Solomons National Agricultural Information System launched

December 2005
First NAIS Workshop (see photo on left)

April 2005
Launch of National Agricultural Information System – NAIS

October 2001
Launch of NARI/CRI agricultural information system

April 2000
Launch of NARI 'library catalogue database system'

December 1999
Planning for NARI 'library catalogue database system' commences

October 1996
National SDI Workshop held at Tavilo, ENBP, PNG

December 1991
Agriculture Librarians' Workshop held in Port Moresby, PNG
 
         
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