Information access essential for advancing agricultural science and national development in Kenya

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Humphrey Kombe Keah is an information management and digital services specialist at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. He discusses the opportunities and challenges of information access in Kenya for agricultural science and national development.

The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Kenya is part of a consortium of 15 international agricultural research centres known as the Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). CGIAR’s mission is to advance agricultural science and innovation to enable poor people, especially women, to better nourish their families and to improve productivity and resilience so that they can share in economic growth and manage natural resources in the face of climate change and other challenges.

In order to support the mission of ICRAF, our researchers need access to up-to-date published research. However, the research and knowledge sector in Kenya still faces a range of challenges in top-level awareness, appropriate policies and standards, and in researcher awareness of the information available.

At the top level, there is sometimes a lack of appreciation among government agencies of the importance of the role of information. An increased level of trust and recognition from the government about the role of the information profession would improve research information access in the country. This could be led by the National Council for Science and Technology or the Ministry of Education, for instance. It is important to fully recognise the Kenya Library and Information Services Consortium (KLISC) as leading in national matters of access to research information, including negotiations with publishers. With the support of INASP, KLISC has developed into a strong organisation ready and capable of taking on this responsibility. Subscriptions through KLISC help to overcome the barrier of affordability of subscription content for the consortium’s member institutions.

At a policy level, there is a lack of clarity and standards in Kenya. There is no policy to enforce data availability in digital form and there are no standards for data management and sharing or for data preservation in trusted repositories. It would therefore be good to develop repository enhancement features. This would be particularly useful when publishing institutional research outputs and datasets as Linked Open Data, as it would make open-access research more discoverable through the Semantic Web.

Finally, many researchers in the country have limited knowledge of emerging ICT research skills. This means that they can face challenges in accessing material. They therefore need training on what electronic resources are available to them, be it subscribed or open-access content, and how to make use of them. This is something that KLISC and INASP have been working on. In addition to having developed the skills for negotiating with publishers, KLISC has also worked with INASP to develop the organisational capacity and facilitation skills to be able to provide training for its members in a range of areas including how to discover and use electronic resources.

Humphrey Kombe Keah will be speaking at INASP’s Publishers for Development conference on 11 July 2017. For more information and to register for the event, see