ICT Africa Headline Press Release

Open Access Initiative Sees Limited Use in Africa

 
SciDev.net - ICT Africa News
BY GIOVANNI SABATO, 29 OCTOBER 2013

Rome — Ten years after the launch of a programme offering developing nations free or low-cost access to food and agricultural research, thousands of organisations have registered, although many potential users are not making use of it.

AGORA (Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture) is run by the FAO in partnership with several publishers and scientific institutions. It provides 2,500 institutions in 116 countries with online access to more than 3,500 journal titles and 3,300 books.

The programme is part of the Research4Life initiative, a collective name for four public-private partnerships, that seek to help achieve the UN's Millennium Development Goals by improving developing nations' access to research. The other three partnerships focus on health, the environment, and on development and innovation.

"It is performing far better than we could ever have hoped, delivering information to institutions that often had no access," Stephen Rudgard, chief of knowledge and capacity for development at FAO, where he supervises the AGORA team, tells SciDev.Net.

"And, every year, more publishers are joining, so the content is increasing and the users are increasing."

But when it comes to using the services, there remains room for improvement, Rudgard says. "The level of use is not where we would like. Many organisations are registered but are not using it," he says.

One barrier is slow and expensive access to the Internet, although this is improving in many countries.

"But too often we find people don't even know of AGORA. Focal points inside the institutions should promote it, but sometimes they are not playing their role. We see stronger use in higher education institutions, where students and professors are constantly seeking new knowledge. So we learned we have to constantly push other institutions to be more proactive," he adds.

Jorge Contreras, an associate law professor at American University, United States, describes programmes such as AGORA as "a wonderful resource". But he adds: "Information philanthropy programmes can't, by themselves, solve research access problems".

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