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[LILONGWE] African researchers are developing a database of where to find scientific information on the Internet.

Preparatory work has begun on the online information source, known as Access to Scientific Knowledge in Africa (ASKIA).

The project — run by the Ethiopia-based UN Economic Commission for Africa through their Information and Communication Technology division — aims to support and promote access to scientific knowledge for scientists, university students, lecturers and policymakers.

Alex Tindimubona, of the Economic Commission for Africa, says that once fully operational, ASKIA should provide another mechanism by which African scientific institutions can tap into global scientific knowledge.

The database — for scientific institutions in Africa — is intended to include searchable collections of material.

Preparations began earlier this month (7 August), with an email questionnaire sent to African scientists and institutions asking them to discuss their most urgent needs in the production, dissemination and use of scientific knowledge.

Tindimubona says he has received interesting feedback, which is being used to design the online database.

However, Michael Khan, director of the Centre for Science Technology and Innovation Indicators at the Human Sciences Research Council in South Africa, warned that the questionnaire might not be sufficiently sophisticated to reveal useful insights into how best to address the lack of access to information.

Tigere Chagutah, from the Zimbabwe-based Southern Africa Research and Documentation Centre, a project of the Southern African Development Community, said biotechnology research was of immense importance for food security and health and should be a priority on the ASKIA database.

He said such research, if available online for other researchers, might make for easier peer review without contravening intellectual property rights.