Buy This Issue
The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 18 June 2016
20 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 18 JUNE 2016 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Harvesting open ideas from great minds: Open Harvest 2016 How a Greek company got the most important and prestigious institutions around the world working together to set the stage for a global data infrastructure in agriculture and food ALEX PAPASIMAKOPOULOU Chania, May 2016. A city full of history, tourists and sunshine and yet something much bigger was taking place under everyone's nose. The event was called Open Harvest and the delegates were part of the most important and prestigious institutions in the world dealing with the global infrastructure for agriculture and food. The line up was very impressive: the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the French National Agronomic Institute (INRA), the Alterra Institute of the Wageningen University in the Netherlands, the Agricultural Information Management Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), the Indian Statistical Institute, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA), the US eXtension network and many others. A select group of 30 experts in their fields were meeting in order to plan a 10 year road map for an open, shared, and freely distributed data infrastructure for agriculture and food. How important or relevant is this to me and you? For most of us our daily chores don't include taking on piles of academic research data after all. It's actually more important than you would think but let's start at the very beginning, in the words of Julie Andrews. Apart from this key event taking place in Greece, what's really noteworthy is that the person leading the charge was Chania's own son Nikos Manouselis and his company Agroknow. Nikos has a couple of master’s degrees (as you do) and a PHD in the application of metadata technologies in the field of agricul- ture. You'd think that would have been enough wouldn't you? The seeds for what was to come were sown during his PHD studies when he realised that not only was the European Union (EU) funding research into information technologies and agriculture, but that it was a great way for everyone to access the necessary knowledge to improve their farming techniques. So Agroknow came to be in his back room in 2008, in amongst CDs, books and his children's toys. Initially he held on to his daytime job but soon this new project took a life of its own. By 2011, Agroknow had its first proper IKEA furnished office, which takes us up to this day and a staff of about 20. What was Agroknow's first project or the one which paved the way for everything else? “Our real fighting chance came from our first successful bids in the States. We got over our initial fears and decided to look beyond our European”, says Nikos. “It quickly became obvious that we had a unique skill set when dealing with information systems in the agriculture and food industries. We brought something of real value to the table. By 2013 our weird and wonderful world was moving into the mainstream when the British, Dutch and US administrations started introducing the term agricultural open data into their legislative agendas. By the time MIT started implementing a similar project, we already had five years worth of experience in this field”, he told us proudly. So what is it that you actually do? What we deal with is scientific data, in the form of university publications, studies, even raw research data. We locate it, place it in big files or folders if you like and make it available to anyone working on an online service or application in the agricultural sector. Some really big organisations even ask us to support them on a daily basis. The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization has hired us to provide the backend for a huge online search engine of scientific data, which started back in the 70s. We feel that public sector bodies should open up their vaults, that academic studies should make their results widely available, along with statistical data and information on who produces what and how much it costs. If all of this was freely available we could then focus on what's important: developing solutions that help both farmers and consumers.
11 June 2016
25 June 2016