Dire need for free access to agricultural repository

The Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) and the West and Central African Research and Education Network (WACREN) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to enhance scientific and scholarly communication in Africa, according to a post on The RUFORUM Blog.

Under the MOU, the bodies plan to establish an agricultural data repository that will offer researchers in more than 163 RUFORUM member universities and other research organisations free access to data in agriculture and related fields.

The organisations, through WACREN’s AfricaConnect3 project, and the Library Support for Embedded NREN Services and E-infrastructure (LIBSENSE) initiative, will also support open-access publishing and open science using state-of-the-art digital services at no cost to users, according to the blog post.

Data management training

They will establish a platform to enable agriculture research data sharing and management, and journal hosting and publishing, leveraging on the LIBSENSE network, which already enables the National Research and Education Network and higher education institutions in Africa librarians to collaborate and interconnect.

As a result, the RUFORUM knowledge repository will be revamped, and components, among others, creation of open educational resources, or OER, to train users in research data management will be initiated.

Established in 2016, LIBSENSE is a pan-African initiative that aims to bring together the research and education networks (RENs) and academic library communities to strengthen open access and open science in Africa.

On the other hand, the AfricaConnect3 project supports the creation, development and use of advanced, dependable internet connectivity for the teaching, learning, and research communities of Africa. The agreement, which builds on a similar document inked in 2020 that expires in December 2023, will see the allies leverage the capacities of their networks – human, technical, and financial resources, to ensure the successful implementation of the agreement.

Survey findings to be discussed

“This is an African relationship to strengthen research among our agriculture community, and we expect the collaboration to be ongoing,” Dr Boubakar Barry, CEO of WACREN, said just before the initial agreement was signed.

In preparation for the new agreement, that will be valid from 2024 to 2027, the partners have conducted a two-year needs assessment survey, besides piloting the expiring document with select RUFORUM network members.

“Following the completion of the needs assessment survey, RUFORUM and WACREN will present these findings in a joint workshop scheduled for 1 November 2023, as part of the RUFORUM AGM 2023 in Yaoundé, Cameroon,” according to the blog post.

In addition, the workshop will introduce key principles of research data management (RDM), raise awareness among participants about the need for appropriate RDM policies, showcase state-of-the-art international standards of RDM practices, and discuss the survey outcomes.

Enhanced learning experiences

The collaboration is a step in the direction that will help agriculture researchers engage in scientific discovery. The networking will also enable universities to train researchers and students, through innovative and creative ICT-enabled techniques that deliver and enhance the student learning experience.

“Therefore, RUFORUM and WACREN seek advocacy from RUFORUM governance, partners and stakeholders to support the development of the repository to ensure its functionality, effectiveness and efficiency,” the policy brief reads. The draft binds the parties to exchange knowledge and experiences and find opportunities that are of common interest to the two parties and the end-users in general.

Open repositories used

The needs assessment survey done among potential users in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Nigeria – most of whom hold masters or doctoral degrees, showed that, while they largely collected primary data, 41% of them sourced secondary data from open-data repositories, while only 11% of them sourced for the same from commercial ones, Dr Pamela Abbott, LIBSENSE research lead, and Nada Musa, technical specialist: knowledge management at RUFORUM, reported during the UbuntuNet Connect 2023 conference that took place in Kampala, Uganda, from 26-27 October 2023.

On the other hand, 29% of the respondents obtained their secondary data from shared repositories while 52% obtained it from “outputs from collaborative projects with researchers and students”. At the same time, 66% capture data manually and digitise it later, while 54% capture it in digital format, with only 29% storing their data in a repository, whether online or offline, Abbott and Musa reported.

Some 56% of the respondents do not share data with users outside of their own institutions, although as many as 73% would wish to do so, while 44% do share data with others outside their own institutions, “but, of these, 57% said they do not follow data sharing guidelines”, the survey revealed.

Need for safe data storage

Most of the respondents said they would prefer to use an open agricultural data repository to promote and implement the FAIR data principles (findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable), and to meet the requirements of publishers and funders who may want to provide open access to data sets.

They also reported that they would use such a repository to store agricultural research publications and data safely and securely once they are through with a project and to have access to data from past projects.