INSAM, a market place on the web for agrometeorologists
INSAM, a market place on the web for agrometeorologists.
Kees Stigter, founding president of INSAM (updated 14 December 2008)
Agricultural meteorology is growing everywhere, even back from almost absent in a number of western countries. But, there are often difficulties in finding each other, especially in developing countries. What to do about this?
Establishment of the International Society for Agricultural Meteorology (INSAM) was decided in April 2001, at a meeting in Florence of the "Advisory Working Group" (now the “Management Team”) of the Technical Commission for Agricultural Meteorology (CAgM) of WMO. In that Group we had already often discussed that one of the limitations of CAgM always had been that membership was largely among agrometeorologists from National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs). A limited group with often little support from mainstream Meteorology, particularly in developing countries. By establishing a much broader organization, we would catch two flies with one hand. The agrometeorologists in NMHSs could be lifted out of their isolation, and more agrometeorologists could interact with each other. It would also broaden the search for fellow-agrometeorologists that could be actively engaged in the work of CAgM and in other umbrella activities in agrometeorology.
Given that I had just terminated my second term as president of CAgM (1991-1999) and knew its limitations very well, and with my - at that time - already 25 years of work in Africa (in 14 countries) and experience in India, China, Indonesia and Vietnam, I was asked to act as founding president. I was also one of the exceptions that did not come from the NMHSs but from a University background. And I knew how difficult it is to get people to the point that they start writing actively and in English about their agricultural meteorology, and then dare to show it outside the walls of their own organization.
From the beginning we had come to the conclusion that INSAM would be completely web based and would not know annual meetings, symposia etc. There were enough of such organizations. We would merely aim at increasing interaction between agrometeorologists all over the world. What I have started calling “to offer a market place on the web”. It was clear that the need for such a place for information archiving and information exchange was particularly large in developing countries, where there are appreciably less national and international channels of information accessible. The Internet offered and still offers new chances. We also had resolved that INSAM would operate completely independently from CAgM and WMO bureaucracies, but would remain closely related to these organizations. As an associated society we would at times report in their meetings on progress and problems. That would be in everybody’s interest. The goals in common were the promotion of agrometeorology and a place to advertise successes and needs in operational agrometeorology and to discuss remaining challenges.
Less than a year after Florence we could indeed get on the web with www.agrometeorology.org, thanks to the founding vice-president, Prof. Giampiero Maracchi (Florence) and our website moderator, Dr. Federica Rossi (Bologna), assisted by the INSAM technical web specialist Massimiliano Magli. I am myself responsible for INSAM texts, design with Federica in great lines what we publish on the site and how, and I edit contributions submitted. And at the moment that I am updating this, in June 2007, we have registered close to 1160 members from 110 countries. The importance for developing countries follows from the membership statistics: we have now 240 members from India, 109 from Iran, 72 from Brazil, as the three top countries. Then follow four others with large numbers: USA with 54, Nigeria with 46, South Africa with 45, China with 40 members. Five countries have between 35 and 25 members: Italy, Argentina, Cuba, Indonesia and Korea. Another ten countries have more than 10 members: Canada, Pakistan, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Netherlands, Ethiopia, Ghana, Greece, Mexico and Spain. Indeed all are countries where agricultural meteorology is considered important and where there is a great zest for agrometeorology and great needs are felt for applications. Registration is free of charge, but some have become a “founding member” for a once only 70 Euro and we have over 100 of such members. Within this group there are also “corporate members” for a once only 500 Euro, and we have 6. More of these we could definitely use. Nevertheless, the aim of a 1000 members we easily made. However, a big problem remains in members not giving us their change of e-mail addresses and other particularities, when changing jobs and e-mail addresses.
When registering, incoming members make a choice among more than fifty fields of agrometeorology, to find five such “fields of interest” their work is most affiliated with and that fit their interests best. Once registered, clicking on any field in the larger list will give an inventory of people interested in that very field of agrometeorology, sorted after country. Under their names one will find their contact details. The INSAM home page offers many possibilities to get into news and information, and the web site as a whole offers many chances to disseminate information. In addition to news on and links with vacancies, training, meetings, congresses, conferences, calls for papers, awards, societies, publishers etc., we are particularly keen on exchange of information in the fields of operational agrometeorology. The need is also there largest in developing countries, where the streams of information are less and thinner. We have topics to go to as listed in the box. We are soliciting short contributions that after some editorial scrutinizing are made available under such a topic. But it remains extremely difficult to have people writing on their work, their problems and their information needs!
Box containing INSAM home page topics
Agromet Market Place
Online weather and climate information
“Hands on” training for response farming
Draft 3rd Ed. GAMP (2007)
We have nominated additional “vice-presidents” from Australia, Brazil, Korea and India, as well as appointed official correspondents in Cuba, India and Iran. This network may be extended informally with “resource persons”, from which group again “correspondents” will be engaged. This all to warrant, promote and stimulate active participation of and exchange between members. But English, as a “lingua franca”, remains a big “stumbling block”, also in some large countries with very many agrometeorologists, such as China, Japan and Russia.
The INSAM market place clearly has never enough stalls, what they offer is always too limited a choice. The clients can be served still a lot better and could also contribute themselves with products to exchange. More members means more clients and more potential boots and products. Many of these problems of “passive consumption” did and do exist in CAgM as well. But by mining the INSAM membership, the interest to participate in CAgM activities has appreciably increased, its bureaucracy notwithstanding. We have experienced this for example in the activities related to the rewriting of the “Guide to Agricultural Meteorological Practices (GAMP)”. That trend has to be kept. I make use of it also in writing my book “Applied Agrometeorology” for Springer.
One of our ideas for the future is an open access electronic journal: “Operational and Educational Agrometeorology”. With the above given problems to obtain even much simpler, hardly refereed, contributions, we dared for a long time not to jump and launch it. But now we have identified an establishment group of 33 members that works on it. We expect to start soliciting papers by 2009 and to initiate publication in 2010. It is precisely operational agrometeorology that is the “step child” and we fought that in CAgM for thirty years already. This makes such an undertaking risky and extremely difficult to sustain. The combination of good applied scientific research in agrometeorology, that focuses on problem solving in developing countries and is written up in readable English, is still too rare. Sometimes the greatest problem is indeed the application (such as in India, Latin America and externally financed work in Africa), sometimes it is scientific level (such as in - particularly west and central – China, Vietnam and other parts of Asia) and sometimes it is both, as well as a matter of numbers of scientists involved (such as in Africa, Indonesia and other parts of Asia and the Middle East). The above also remains a big problem in funding that is in very many cases oriented towards basic or mainstream applied research instead of agrometeorological services to prepare farmers for climate change and climate use, that remain undercurrent agrometeorology.
Our automatically drawn statistics show that we have risen to between 200 and occasionally more than 300 daily personal visits of our site; that many “machines” are making use of it and distribute our items widely, that many links are used and quite some material is visited and downloaded. Modern operational agrometeorology is slowly getting off, also under the pressure of increasing climate variability and climate change. However, especially in quantitative work and in better preparing farmers for calamities, agricultural meteorology has to be drastically strengthened. Many hands make the work less heavy. If INSAM can contribute here, its establishment was a good decision. Everybody is greatly welcomed to help us to jointly get this done (www.agrometeorology.org).