Friends of Agro-Know: Johannes Keizer


We have long planned to include some interviews with interesting, influential people that we are in contact with and collaborate; however, this was a challenging task due to the limited availability of these people. I could not imagine a better start than an interview with Johannes Keizer, a key person in FAO, vision-setter and influential decision maker. Among his various contributions, I would highlight his role in the development of the FAO AGRIS network during the last years. Despite our long time communication, I only had the pleasure to meet Johannes in the 2nd plenary meeting of RDA in Washington D.C. last September and then we met again during the agINFRA 2nd review meeting in Athens, Greece, on December 2013. Johannes was kind enough to respond to our questions in the following mini-interview, despite his fully-packed schedule during these days.


Johannes Keizer at the RDA 2nd plenary meeting


1. Could you please tell us a bit about yourself? What is your(educational/academic) background and what is your current position in FAO?

I am engaged with Information Management for 20 years. During my PhD thesis as a Biochemist I produced tons of data and I realized how badly data often are treated and maintained. So I learned using databases, then the internet, then…. I joined FAO initially for my competence on pesticides, but then very quickly I took over the responsibility for AGRIS and AGROVOC. Now I am Program Responsible of FAO for AGORA/Research4Life and I am specifically looking for new creative partnerships to maintain AGRIS and AGROVOC in a sustainable way.


2. Since you were one of the people behind the agINFRA concept, what was the initial vision of the project? What did you expect the project to achieve in its three years?

I saw agINFRA as beginning of process to create an Information Infrastructure in our Domain. I never was a strong believer in a semantic web as a global undertaking. But I consider it possible that communities of practice create infrastructures to handle better data, information and knowledge, semantic web spaces. I thought that agINFRA could deliver the first bricks for this infrastructure. But I also thought that it should be the core of a community that goes far ahead


3. How is the initial vision of the project aligned to the current status of the project? Any difficulties or challenges so far?

I think agINFRA has been very successful. The promised integrated systems are delivering more than we anticipated. AGRIS, our showcase, has become a very important Linked Open Data application in the Domain. We succeeded to put the CIARD RING in the center of data discovery. We created many services with GRID partners that automatize processes that were done before manually.


After the agINFRA 2nd review meeting (L-R): Me, Johannes, Nikos Manouselis and Guntram Geser


4. The agINFRA project includes three important non-EU partners; the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) and Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL,Ecuador). How does the project benefit from these partners and what is their role?

Europe wants to be internationally important and this is possible only through international alliances and collaboration. Agriculture is enormously important worldwide, more than in Europe, this makes international collaboration mandatory. But not only for the topic, also to learn resolving problems that are not directly present in Europe. At example the setup of efficient and easy to use cloud services for Content Management are much more is much pressing from the point of view of countries with a less developed IT Infrastructure.


5. There is a strong connection between the agINFRA project and specific groups of the Research Data Alliance (RDA); would you like to tell us a little bit more about that? What was the need and what are the expected joint activities?

RDA is a great means to bring forward the normative aspects from the work in agINFRA into a broader community and to learn from a broader community. agiNFRA has sponsored the building of a wheat data interoperability group and of a working group on global germplasm descriptors.


6. The agINFRA project will end on 14/10/2014; what happens then? Will there be a continuation of the effort through another project/initiative?

Between some of the organizations participating in agINFRA alliances have been built that will stay independently from any funded projects. These collaboration has also been extended in the last months having INRA, Wageningen UR, FAO, Agro-Know and some other organizations at the core of a new strong initiative for an agINFRA2.

Many thanks to Johannes for providing his insight on these questions and mostly for driving all these interesting discussions and collaborations, bringing together all key stakeholders of the agricultural research sector!

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