Sowing the seeds of agri-food research e-infrastructure
How can we produce healthy, nutritious food for all, and do so more sustainably in a changing world? Agile, resilient systems are required - and vast amounts of data will have to be shared and processed to shape them, according to an EU-funded project that produced a roadmap for the development of suitable e-infrastructure.
© nd3000 #196149098, 2019 source: stock.adobe.com
Work in the EU-funded project e-ROSA began by outlining a shared vision of the agri-food systems of the future, says Odile Hologne of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research.
The project’s description of possible agri-food reality in 2030 portrays agile, resilient systems empowered by collaboration and shared data to advance the pursuit of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
It underlines the crucial role of open science e-infrastructure which Hologne describes as a means for users to share, connect and collaborate in support of the production and exploitation of the knowledge on which this vision relies.
Hologne was the coordinator of e-ROSA, which ended in June 2018, having published its roadmap and initiated what she hopes will be an ongoing process. The project’s work could feed into policymaking on a digital infrastructure to support a sustainable European agricultural sector.
‘Our project was the beginning of something that needs to go on,’ she underlines.
Preparing the ground
‘At the moment, we have no real e-infrastructure in agri-food sciences,’ Hologne observes. While e-infrastructure does exist for research in relevant areas, such as genomics and the environment, these assets are not linked, she adds. The approach championed by e-ROSA involves the provision of technical services to connect these resources.
The project’s objectives were to build a community by bringing the stakeholders together, to take stock of digital resources that already exist and that could be used as building blocks for the proposed e-infrastructure, and then to develop a roadmap for its construction, she explains.
Access to suitable e-infrastructure would help agri-food scientists to access, process and exchange the abundant data that are collected from settings such as farms, fields and forests, by devices as varied as sensors, drones and satellites.
‘We have more and more data,’ Hologne says, ‘but these data are held in silos and therefore not easy to find or use.’
Data should be findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable ‘FAIR’, in short, says Hologne, emphasising one of the principles associated with the principle of open science.
Farms, food and the future
The agri-food sector’s grand challenges, as outlined in the e-ROSA roadmap, include producing healthy and nutritious food for a growing population, doing so more sustainably, equitably and resiliently, and preparing for the implications of climate change. Suitable e-infrastructure for research will place the agri-food sector in a much better position to tackle complex issues such as these, Hologne explains.
Providing such digital infrastructure will facilitate work and collaboration within its virtual community of users in much the same way as a building a road might facilitate transport and exchanges among isolated residents of the physical world, she adds.
To sustain the momentum created in e-ROSA, the partners are notably engaging with the Joint Programming Initiative on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change and the construction of the European Open Science Cloud, Hologne reports.
And they are seizing chances to translate theory into practice. ‘We have an EU-funded sister project named AGINFRA PLUS, which is currently in progress and provides us with an opportunity to demonstrate and test some of the ideas that we have in the roadmap,’ Hologne says.