India debuts ‘agricultural Wikipedia’

The project will disseminate information about crops and regions to farmers and agricultural extension workers Copyright: Flickr/antkriz

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[NEW DELHI] Indian scientists have launched an ‘agricultural Wikipedia’ to act as an online repository of agricultural information in the country.

The government-backed initiative, Agropedia, was launched last week (12 January).

It aims to disseminate crop- and region-specific information to farmers and agricultural extension workers — who communicate agricultural information and research findings to farmers — and provide information for students and researchers.

The website currently contains information on nine crops — rice, wheat, chickpea, pigeon pea, vegetable pea, lychee, sugarcane, groundnut and sorghum — but its creators say that all agriculture-related topics will be eventually covered.

Content will be continually added and validated through review and analysis by invited agricultural researchers, in a manner similar to that used by Wikipedia and using open source tools, says V. Balaji, head of knowledge management and sharing with the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), a partner in the project.

The site also houses blogs and forums where anyone can provide and exchange knowledge.

The 85 million-rupee (around US$17 million) project is being implemented over 30 months and is backed by the National Agricultural Innovation Project, a six-year government programme intended to modernise agriculture.

The World Bank and the Indian government have provided the funding for the project and six Indian agricultural and technology institutions are partners in the project, providing information and technological expertise.

India is considered a global leader in promoting innovative ways of using technology for farm and rural outreach, Balaji told SciDev.Net.

In the last five years close to 12,000 information technology-enabled rural information centres — some with Internet access — have been established but there is a lack of accessible agricultural information, he says.

It is hoped that even where farmers have no access to the Internet, the Agropedia information can be used as a basis for radio plays, for example, says Balaji.

Agropedia’s lead architect, T. V. Prabhakar of the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, initially envisioned the website as the equivalent of Wikipedia for global agriculture three years ago, but for now it will concentrate on India-specific information.

He says that the initial phase of the project — developing a mechanism to manage the vast repository of knowledge — is nearly completed, and the next step is to develop ways to disseminate the knowledge.

Trials will soon begin in six locations around the country.