Posts Tagged ‘Namibia’

Interview with Chenjerai Mabhiza about the Forum on Open Data, Open Science and Open Access to Information in Agriculture

7th June 2016

Interview with Chenjerai Mabhiza, Head of User Services at the University of Namibia

Namibia_workshop1Following the forum on Open science and Open Data in Agriculture in Namibia in April, we caught up with Chenjerai Mabhiza – Head of User Services at the University of Namibia (UNAM). Part of his role is to help ensure that the library is the digital-backbone of research across campuses, ensuring smooth information flow between resources and students

Namibia_workshop2Compliments to you Chenjerai (see left) for your work in helping to organize the recent Forum. That must have involved a lot of work behind the scenes….

Thank you for the welcome remarks and yes, there was a lot of work behind the scenes. At the end of January 2016 I gladly accepted the ITOCA’s request to be the logistical organizer of the Forum on Open Data, Open Science and Open Access to Information in Agriculture in the Context of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). An AGORA Training Workshop followed at the University of Namibia (UNAM), 19-20 April 2016.

On a logistical front I helped find the venues and made bookings for both the Forum (FODUSA) and the AGORA Training workshop. I also identified public institutions and individuals that could participate at both events, organized caterers for the AGORA workshop and transport for the forum and workshop facilitators.

In addition, my role included compiling a report to cover both the FODUSA and the AGORA workshop. I am still busy compiling the joint final report for both (forum and workshop) as I respond to your interview questions….    

Senior-level panelists spoke at length on an array of topics about open data and open science in agricultural research. But at a policy level what did you take away from the Forum, and how do you see the outcomes being relevant to UNAM?

The opening statements highlighted the importance of science research. They addressed national priorities and needs and their contribution towards the realization of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially those related to ending hunger, poverty alleviation, gender equality, climate change and health. The importance of easy access to information, and the need for access to knowledge to support national priorities and SDGs was also noted.

Namibia_workshop3The first plenary session
presentations and discussions looked at research and innovation in support of national development goals and SDGs.

The second plenary session discussed initiatives on data and technical information sharing and dissemination using open data and open science for the realization of the aforementioned SDGs.  It also highlighted the need for access to data and information, including institutional and national policy implications.

The closing session summarized the major outputs from the panel discussions and resolved to enhance knowledge sharing and advocacy on open data and open science.

Specifically, the Forum resolved that Namibia must create a National Steering Committee on Open Data and Open Science (OD/ OS) and mandated the Namibia Commission for Research, Science and Technology (NCRST) to coordinate the committee.

The representative at the Forum informed the meeting that the NCRST was in the process of formulating a Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) policy. The Forum advised the NCRST to incorporate issues pertaining to Open Access and sharing of research data in the STI policy.

In order to successfully champion the cause, the Namibia National Steering Committee on Open Data, Open Science, Agriculture Research and Development must engage a range of institutions (*see list at end).


How widely is AGORA promoted and used at UNAM?

Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture (AGORA) is promoted during information literacy (IL) training sessions, carried out by librarians. IL training for students takes place throughout the year and during academic orientation for teaching and research staff. IL training for postgraduate students takes place during faculty seminars, during academic 1st year orientation, and upon request.

AGORA is mostly used by students and lecturers from the Faculty of Agriculture and Natural Resources (FANR) and the Faculty of Science. A few nursing science, education and humanities students have also found AGORA relevant to their research focus areas in recent years.

What about other agricultural research resources?

Agriculture research information is available online through theses and dissertations, research reports, and platforms and databases such as, AGORA, OARE, Google Scholar, Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) EBSCO HOST, JSTOR, AGRIS, TEEAL and Science Direct, among others.

Agriculture students have access to all the above resources through the Library website. UNAM students also access agriculture information through organizational websites: FAO, OIE, CTA, SADC FANR, CARDESA, FARA, and Farmers` Unions, etc.

And e-learning?

UNAM promotes e-learning through the Centre for Open and Distance Learning. Lecturers can deposit lecture notes on student portals through the Moodle E-Learning platform; lecturers can also assess students on-screen. The Web is also awash with free online tutorials on various disciplines, including agriculture.

The majority of UNAM students have access to new technologies, but the onus is upon them to continue learning after obtaining their degrees and also apply these skills at work. After UNAM, Namibian graduates can also pursue postgraduate studies online through other agriculture universities globally. 

As Head of User Services at UNAM you have a great vantage point on how students access research.  During your time at UNAM how have you seen user-services improve and innovate in line with better access to research?

In 2012 I helped to carry out a study to identify resources required by academics at UNAM.  Subscription databases such as, Hein Online and Cambridge Law Reports were added in 2015 following accreditation of the LLB programme.

In addition to AGORA and HINARI, OARE was also added to the Research4Life programmes that UNAM has access to.

JSTOR was added in 2012. Connectivity to Open Access resources, such as Google Scholar, Biomed Central, DOAJ, DOAB, Free Books4Doctors, among others was established and the above resources are accessible through the UNAM Library website.

Following a 2007 User Survey Report (after student complaints and demonstrations) more student PCs were acquired, a new ICT Student Help Desk was introduced, Internet bandwidth increased, and wifi installed inside and around libraries, among other improvements, (although internet connectivity remains poor at some UNAM campuses, especially further from Windhoek).

Cumulatively, the above library developments have enabled students and researchers based at various UNAM campuses to access research information online.

I conducted an evaluation in 2009 that helped to identify gaps among existing library collections (journals and textbooks). Some of the identified e-journal databases that have been added to the UNAM Library subscriptions list include, Emerald (2011), Science Direct (2011), Sage (2012), and Taylor & Francis (2012).

You’re an active member of Open Access week – how is OA promoted at UNAM and what benefits do you see for students?

UNAM`s position on participating in open access programmes is articulated in the Scholarly Communications (SC) Policy approved by Senate in 2013.

UNAM strives to make the products of all publicly funded research freely accessible to the global community of researchers through the UNAM Institutional Repository (IR administered by the library).

In the event where the authors are not funded by the institution or government, and their works are disseminated through subscription based journals, databases, etc., the SC policy advises UNAM academicians/ researchers to negotiate their right to deposit/publish pre-prints through the IR whenever possible.

Through funding from the University`s Research Office, the institution supports researchers seeking to publish their peer reviewed works through accredited Open Access journals.

Meanwhile, electronic copies of all Master degree theses and Phd dissertations done through the University of Namibia (UNAM) are published on the Institutional Repository (IR). For example, a copy of my thesis defended on 15 March 2016 is accessible @

Lastly, what’s next on your agenda, particularly in terms of open access to data and science?

I’m a member of the UNAM Scholarly Communications Committee (SCC: formerly Task Force). One of the recommendations of both the Task Force and the SCC is that the institution must become a signatory of one of the Open Access declarations, such as the Vienna or Berlin Declaration(s).

I also agree with the AGORA workshop recommendation of UNAM becoming a member of the Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR).

The UNAM Library`s ICT and Training Librarian has just returned from a 3-week digitization (D-Space) training trip in Poland, Czech Republic and Switzerland, where the UNAM Institutional Repository (IR) featured greatly. During the trip UNAM was offered an opportunity to participate in a different local open access and digitization initiative coordinated by the National Archives of Namibia and the National University of Science and Technology (NUST, formerly Polytechnic of Namibia).

A summary of the project is presented below:

Digital Namibian Archive:

*: University of Namibia (UNAM), Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) International University of Management (IUM), National Commission on Research Science and Technology (NCRST), International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) Ministries/ Government of the Republic of Namibia (GRN) departments, such as, Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF), Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), Ministry of Fisheries, Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), National Planning Commission (NPC), Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA), Ministry of Information Commission Technology (ICT), Directorate Namibia Library and Archives Services (NLAS; National Library of Namibia is part of NLAS), Ministry of Education, Farmers Unions (Namibia Farmers Union (NFU), and Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

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Namibia hosts Forum on Open Data and Open Science in Agriculture in Africa in the context of Sustainable Development Goals, 18 April 2016

12th April 2016


The second of four forums organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and partners, the forum is targeted at experts from senior government, academia and NGOs.

Strengthening access to agricultural science and technical information (Open Data and Open Science*) in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is vital if Africa is to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to ending hunger, alleviating poverty, gender equality, climate change and health.

Due to challenges at both an institutional and national level much agriculture-related data produced in SSA isn’t visible or accessible, hindering any meaningful impact on food security in the region. A UN report found that in 2015 more than 40% of the population of SSA was still living in poverty and that the region faces daunting challenges with regards rapid population growth, high levels of poverty and conflicts.  Data has become a key asset for agricultural transformation in Africa. Indeed greater access to and sharing of agricultural data and science are two of the keys to unlocking change, allowing innovative solutions to be developed to address food insecurity and poverty on the continent.

However, in order for Open Data and Open Science initiatives to make any meaningful impact on SDGs and on the lives of Africans, most of whom make a living in the rural domain, they must draw together and galvanize players from the full agricultural spectrum.

An enabling environment where agricultural researchers and experts can share their innovations on open platforms is imperative. Farmers, rural populations and development specialists must also be empowered to adopt new innovative technologies and solutions aimed at combatting hunger and poverty in the region.

Sustainable Development Goals

As the eight Millennium Development Goals of the last 15 years came to a conclusion in 2015, a new set of transformative Sustainable Development Goals took their place. While the MDGs made huge strides on a global scale towards eradicating extreme poverty and inequality, development in SSA has been patchy and the challenge is now on to transform the demands of the new SDGs into action. 

Formally signed by the UN in September 2015 The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda included 17 new goals and 169 targets with individual governments expected to create national frameworks for achieving them.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon described the new SDGs as a “shared vision of humanity, and a to-do list for people and planet and a blueprint for success”.

The new SDGs go a step further than the MDGs, addressing the root causes of poverty and the universal need for development. They place increased emphasis on the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection. With the spotlight increasingly on sustainability, Open Data and Open Science initiatives in agriculture in Africa come into even sharper focus. 

Namibia totemGoal of the forums

The chief objective of the forums is to provide a dialogue platform where senior agricultural experts in SSA can articulate some of the challenges to Open Data and Open Science and propose possible strategies.

The forum in Namibia, where around half the population depends largely on subsistence agriculture for a living and the national level of income inequality is one of the highest in the world, asks how enhancing access to Open Data and Science in agriculture can enable the country and indeed, SSA to fulfill SDGs.  

Senior experts in agriculture will:

  • exchange knowledge on institutional and national initiatives aimed at enhancing access to agricultural data science
  • share knowledge and discuss national global trends on data and science access
  • discuss potential mechanisms for enhanced knowledge sharing initiatives in agriculture in SSA.

Expected outcomes

  • A common understanding the role of open data and open science in achieving Africa’s SDGs. 
  • Clarification of the institutional, national and regional policy implications for open data and open science
  • Agreement on the mechanisms, technologies and standards for sharing open data and open science initiatives


Spearheaded by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO of the UN), the collective forums in Kenya (June 2015), Namibia (April 2016), Ghana (July 2016) and Tanzania (May 2016) gather together senior specialists from policy, research information and technology in agriculture and related fields. 

In Namibia two senior policy panel discussions will be followed by facilitated discussions in plenary. Panelists include high profile experts in agricultural and rural development, science, technology and library and information management from Namibia and the sub region.

Part II of the Namibia forum (19-20 April 2016) is a two-day workshop on access to scientific information in agriculture. Transforming the overarching theme of the forum into practical training sessions, the workshop is targeted at agriculture information workers with the core focus on Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture (AGORA)

The first forum in Kenya

44 participants gathered in Nairobi in June 2015 (see photo above) where they agreed that Open Science and Open Data requires an enabling environment framework, including appropriate policies and strategies on a governmental and institutional level. Furthermore, researchers and scientists required a more rewarding system that supports open publishing and collaborative research work, especially with regard to young scientists.

One of the key issues is a lack of understanding of the mechanics of Open Data and Open Science with unclear intellectual property rights policies leading to an “over protection” of data.

However, the forum highlighted several Kenyan initiatives already in place to support open science and to foster processes to improved access to agricultural data. Advocacy on an institutional and governmental level was a key recommendation and the Kenya Agricultural Information Network (KAINet) secretariat and member institutions are focused on driving this forward.

Scheduled follow-ups to the forum will be aimed at consolidating permanent dialogue between stakeholders.

Take a look at the full report

Forum on Open Data and Open Science in Agriculture in Nambia

The forum takes place on 18th April at the Avani Hotel in Windhoek, Namibia – speakers to be confirmed.  It is co-organized by FAO alongside the National University of Namibia (UNAM), GODAN, Information Training and Outreach Centre for Africa (ITOCA), and Research4Life.

Since 1975 FAO has supported initiatives aimed at opening up access to agricultural data. It is currently working closely alongside several partners, including the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN), Open Agriculture Knowledge for Development (CIARD), and Research4Life to improve access to available agriculture and nutrition data, with a view to contributing to enhance food security in Africa.  All four forums are part of this initiative.

Forum dates:

Namibia: 18 – 20 April 2016
Tanzania: 23 – 25 May 2016
Ghana: 11 – 13 July 2016

*Open data is the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control.

Open science is the umbrella term of the movement to make scientific research, data and dissemination accessible to all levels of an inquiring society, amateur or professional. It encompasses practices such as publishing open research, campaigning for open access, encouraging scientists to practice open notebook science, and generally making it easier to publish and communicate scientific knowledge.”

Source: Wikipedia 

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