Open Access to International Agricultural Research

Posted by Prasad Krishna at Jul 15, 2010 07:10 AM |
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Open access advocates have urged the top management of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research to give open access to its research publications. A report by Subbiah Arunachalam on 3 June, 2010 was also circulated to all the signatories of the letter.

CIS Distinguished Fellow, Subbiah Arunachalam and 15 other open access advocates wrote to the top management of CGIAR, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, requesting them to mandate open access to all research publications from all CGIAR centres. The letter was addressed to Dr. Carlos Pérez del Castillo and Dr. Katherine Sierra and it was copied to the Director Generals of all the 15 CGIAR centres.

A permanent member of the prestigious Harvard University Trade Group, Carlos Pérez del Castillo has received the highest decorations from the Governments of Brazil, Chile, France and Venezuela. Carlos Pérez del Castillo also served as the Chairman of the WTO General Council and as Vice-Minister and Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uruguay (1995-1998) and as Permanent Secretary of the Latin American Economic System (1987-1991). He is a member of the Board of the International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council (IPC), and a small cattle farmer.

Katherine Sierra, CGIAR Fund Council chair, is the World Bank vice president for sustainable development responsible for people and programs in environmentally and socially sustainable development and infrastructure. Sierra chairs several international consultative groups. These include the World Bank-WWF Alliance for Forest Conservation and Sustainable Use, Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, Cities Alliance, Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme, and Water and Sanitation Program. Other international groups that she chairs are InfoDev, which supports information and communication technologies for development, and the Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility, which promotes private participation in infrastructure.

The Letter

Dear Dr. Carlos Perez del Castillo/ Dr. Kathy Sierra:

Subject: Please make all CGIAR research publications open access

About a year ago, on 20 May 2009 to be precise, Dr. William D Dar, Director General of ICRISAT sent a memorandum on Launching of Open Access Model: Digital Access to ICRISAT Scientific Publications to all researchers and students in all locations of ICRISAT []. In the memorandum Dr. Dar had said "Every ICRISAT scientist/author in all locations, laboratories and offices will send a PDF copy of the author's final version of a paper immediately upon receipt of communication from the publisher about its acceptance. This is not the final published version that certain journals provide post-print, but normally the version that is submitted following all reviews and just prior to the page proof."

ICRISAT is the only international agricultural research centre with an OA mandate, and is second among the research and education institutes operating from India, the first being the National Institute of Technology-Rourkela. ICRISAT publishes a research journal ( which is also an open access journal.

Since then Institutional Repository is growing fast and the portal now has virtually all the research papers published in recent times, and all the books and learning material produced by ICRISAT researchers.

We believe that it would be great if other CGIAR laboratories could also mandate open access to their research publications. Indeed, it would be a good idea to have a system wide Open Access mandate for CGIAR and to have interoperable OA repositories in each CGIAR laboratory. Such a development would provide a high level of visibility for the work of CGIAR and greatly advance agricultural research. Besides, journals published by CGIAR labs could also be made OA. There are more than 1,500 OA repositories (listed in ROAR and OpenDOAR) and about 5,000 journals in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). Currently over2050 journals are searchable at article level. Over 390,000 articles are included in the DOAJ service.

The world will soon be celebrating the International Open Access Week [18-24 October 2010] and you may wish to announce the CGIAR OA mandate before then.

As you may be aware, all seven Research Councils of the UK and the National Institutes of Health, USA, have such a mandate in place for research they fund and support. The full list of ~220 mandates worldwide is available at the Registry of Open Access Repository Material Archiving Policies.

We look forward to seeing an early implementation of open access in all CGIAR labs.


Subbiah Arunachalam [Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Internet and Society,Bangalore, India]
Remi Barre [Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers (CNAM), Paris, France]
Leslie Chan [University of Toronto at Scarborough, Canada]
Anriette Esterhuysen [Association for Progressive Communications, Johannesburg, South Africa]
Jean-Claude Gudon [University of Montreal, Canada]
Stevan Harnad [Universite du Quebec a Montreal and University of Southampton]
Neil Jacobs [JISC, UK]
Heather Joseph [Executive Director, SPARC, USA]
Barbara Kirsop [Electronic Publishing Trust for Development, UK]
Heather Morrison [University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada]
Richard Poynder [Technology journalist, UK]
T V Ramakrishnan, FRS [Banaras Hindu University and Indian Institute of Science; Former President of the Indian Academy of Sciences]
Peter Suber [Berkman Fellow, Harvard University; Research Professor of Philosophy, Earlham College; Senior Researcher, SPARC; Open Access Project Director, Public Knowledge]
Alma swan [Director, Key Perspectives, UK]
John Wilbanks [Vice President for Science, Creative Commons]
John Willinsky [Stanford University and University of British Columbia]

Status Report on a Suggestion made to CGIAR

Sixteen open access advocates wrote to the CGIAR leadership – Dr. Carlos Perez del Castillo and Dr. Kathy Sierra – on 19 May 2010, requesting CGIAR to adopt an open access mandate for all research publications from CGIAR centres. [As the names of the signatories were arranged in alphabetical order, my name appeared on the top of the list. I am one of the group and not the leader.]  Mr. Richard Poynder posted a write-up on the letter in his famous blog ‘Open and Shut’.

The letter led to a flurry of activity among the ICT-KM professionals of CGIAR. I have heard from ICRISAT (Dr. William Dar, Director General), ILRI (Dr. Peter Ballantyne, Head, Knowledge Management and Information Services) and CIAT (Dr. Edith Hesse, Head Corporate Communications and Capacity Strengthening).

Dr. Dar welcomed the suggestion. Incidentally, he is a champion of open access and is on the Board of Enabling Open Scholarship (EOS). He was also the first in the CGIAR system to mandate open access to all research publications from the centre he heads.

From the mails of Dr. Ballantyne and Dr. Hesse, I could perceive some misgivings about the letter to CGIAR among knowledge managers of some CGIAR centres. In contrast, Dr. Francesca Re Manning of CAS-IP, CGIAR, expressed complete agreement with the proposal made by the OA advocates.

The response of Dr. Enrica Porcari, Chief Information Officer of CGIAR, was ambivalent, almost a tightrope walk. She didn’t say that OA was not acceptable to CGIAR and yet she was not willing to accept OA mandating as an option. She said: “Rather than a policy on ‘open access’ limited to journal articles, I would instead prefer to see us develop a strong and clear CGIAR view and set of practices that balance the need for high quality science with highly accessible outputs, and reinforces the substantial progress we have already made across all the Centers…I would advocate for a concerted effort to ‘opening access to our research’. Is not providing open access to research publications the obvious first step in opening access to our research?”

Probably, Dr. Porcari also thought that the advocates were promoting open access journals. Both Richard Poynder and I clarified that what we suggested for CGIR was open access and not open access journals and explained the difference between the two. Richard clarified that our emphasis was actually on open access archiving.

Dr. Peter Bloch and Dr. Kay Chapman of CAS-IP thought that some of the ideas we put forward were astute and relevant but had some concerns about making papers for which the copyright vests with journal publishers open access as well as papers co-authored with non-CGIAR researchers. In response we pointed out how other organizations which have mandated open access have dealt with these issues.

Prof. Anil Gupta of the Indian Institute of Management , Ahmedabad, and founder of the Honey Bee network that disseminate the innovations of thousands of farmers, craftsmen, artisans and the lay public, endorsed the suggestion stating that  Harvard made it obligatory for all the papers published by its faculty to be openly accessible. He said that "once this is made into a policy by CGIAR, the publishers will have to fall in line."

Prof. Michael Gurstein, editor of Journal of Community Informatics, welcomed the idea of making CGIAR research open access, and suggested that we should go one step further and see to it that the research is also made easily applied by the farmers and other ultimate users. Others who endorsed the suggestion include Professors Bill Hubbard, Stephen Pinfield and Chrisopher Pressler of the Nottingham University, David Bollier, Co-founder of Public Knowledge, Prof. Helen Hambly Odame of the University of Guelph.

In the meanwhile, I found that "the Coherence in Information for Agricultural Research for Development (CIARD) initiative is working to make agricultural research information publicly available and accessible to all. This means working with organisations that hold information or that creates new knowledge – to help them disseminate it more efficiently and make it easier to access. CGIAR, FAO and DFID are CIARD partners.

I refer to the CIARD Manifesto here. It is all for open access. Both DFID and FAO also have adopted open access. Please refer to the R4D portal of DFID. Why R4D?  In the past it was difficult to find out what research topics, projects, and programmes DFID was funding or had funded. Researchers all over the world (and even DFID staff) had to rely on a network of personal contacts or inspired detective work to discover who was already working in a particular area, what was already known, and what lessons had been learned. R4D responds to a demand expressed by many DFID stakeholders for better and open access to all this information. It is and will always be only one piece of the jigsaw, but it is a high-quality piece, as in order to have received DFID funding the research posted on R4D will have met strict criteria and quality standards in both formulation and execution.

FAO has complied with all the 13 CIARD requirements for developing institutional readiness and increasing the availability, accessibility and applicability of research outputs. Indeed FAO is the only institution to have done so.

Dr. Ballantyne of ILRI himself has championed open access. Responding to New publication: Learning to Share Knowledge for Global Agricultural Progress, he wrote on 21 March 2010, "Great to see this experience all written up. I was going to complain at the lack of open access to this CGIAR research output… but then I found the author version ‘available’ in full on the CIAT website. Excellent example of I can’t remember which CIARD pathway! Would be even better if your author version was ‘accessible’ in a proper CGIAR/CIAT repository that is harvestable, etc., and not just uploaded on the web!" This is precisely what the 16 signatories to the letter to CGIAR want for all of CGIR research publications!

There should be no difficulty for CGIAR – the Consortium Board, the Science Council and the Programme Committee to accept the suggestion that they adopt an open access mandate for all their research publications.

It is likely that a few knowledge managers were unhappy that people outside the system made the suggestion. It may be their immediate response. It should not be difficult for them to realize, on sober reflection, that all we mean is to bring access to CGIAR research on par with access to research done at some of the best institutions in the world such as MIT, Harvard, Stanford, and Southampton, and to make CGIAR policy the best in the world – even better than the OA policies of NIH, the Research Councils of the UK and the Wellcome Trust. We assure those who have any misgivings that our intentions are honourable, our suggestion was made in the best interest of CGIAR, and they can cast away their misgivings.


The Central Advisory Service for Intellectual Property (CAS-IP of CGIAR) organised a successful workshop in Rome in early July. CAS-IP hopes to conduct a workshop on open access for all CGIAR librarians and knowledge managers before the end of the year.

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