The business case for a ‘Global Agricultural Concept System’ (GACS)

  • Time: 12:00 – 13:00
  • Date: April 22nd, 2014
  • Venue: Ethiopia
  • Session Lead: Simon Liu
  • Contact info:


Today the possibility of linking distributed datasets from different sources exists as never before.  The commitment to make data accessible in open formats , in formats usable by automated agents, is growing since the G8 Conference on Open Data in Agriculture in April 2013 and the subsequent launch of the Global Open Data in Agriculture and Nutrition initiative at the Open Government Partnership Summit on October 31, 2013.

To make data open requires the use of some standard tools to describe data in a specific domain, so in the agriculture and nutrition domain data on wheat, for example, may be available from: research publication databases;  germplasm passport data from nationals and international research organizations;  phenotype description databases from breeders and research organizations;  commodity production and traded statistics from different bodies;  plant protection information in databases from the private and public sector; nutrient composition databases from national systems; ‘how to’ guides from national extension services and NGOs.

If these datasets on wheat are published openly now, even in the most advanced formats, it does not mean that it will be easy to access, group, merge and evaluate these data in a meaningful way.

Key challenge / opportunity

I would like to discuss the need of having a global agricultural concept system (GACS). One of the key challenges of open agricultural data is the lack of a common controlled vocabulary which reduces interoperability, limits computability, and decreases usefulness of agricultural data. GACS is essential to enable agricultural data interoperability and to make agricultural data computable and useful.

Within the open data environment in the agriculture and nutrition domain there is a lack of a common controlled vocabulary.  This lack reduces interoperability, limits computability and decreases the usefulness of agricultural and nutritional data.

FAO, NAL and CABI, institutions that manage three large agricultural thesauri, have signed an agreement to collaborate on developing a unified agricultural language system, the Global Agricultural Concept Scheme (GACS). 

It is anticipated that the GACS will comprise a set of concepts used to classify agricultural and nutritional knowledge where each concept is developed into a multilingual list of terms which also describes their inter-relationships.  Initial development of the GACS will focus on aligning concepts from the three main agricultural thesauri:  AGROVOC managed by FAO;  NAL Thesaurus managed by NAL, and; CAB Thesaurus managed by CABI.

It is foreseen that the output of this collaboration will be fully accessible as a global public good.

The first phase will comprise a feasibility study on the development, implementation and sustainability of GACS, whose outputs will include a workplan covering, governance, communication and resourcing.

Key objectives of the session

  • To raise awareness about the urgent need for a global agricultural concept system
  • To discuss an ongoing initiative by CABI, FAO and the NAL to merge their 3 agricultural thesauri and how this is helping to reach a new level of common semantics in agriculture
  • To explore willingness amongst new partners to collaborate and expand the partnership

Topics for discussion:

  1. GACS – what evidence is there that validates the value and need for a unified agricultural language system.  Are there examples in other domains
  2. GACS – who would be the main users and how do we collate ‘use cases’
  3. How could the collaboration grow, and what other partnerships would be valuable?
  4. What are the key requirements of the governance of GACS as it plans to be fully open and sustained into the long future?
  5. Ideas for platforms for communication and awareness raising

Links to relevant websites/datasets


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