Friends of Agro-Know: Meet Dr. Sridhar Gutam

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The Friends of Agro-Know series is a series of interviews with people that Agro-Know has either already worked with, or would like to work with in the future. Dr. Sridhar Gutam falls into the latter category; he is a person really actively involved in the field of open access to research outcomes and data as well as an active contributor to related global initiatives, such as the Agriculture Data Interest Group (IGAD) of the Research Data Alliance and CIARD, among others.

Dr. Gutam was kind enough to accept our request to a short interview for the Agro-Know blog, and you can see his responses right below:

Can you please share some info on your education and studies?

After completing my Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture from Acharya N.G. Ranga Agricultural University, now known as Prof. Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University, Hyderabad, I went on with a Master’s degree in Agriculture at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad on the receipt of Junior Research Fellowship from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). Immediately after my master’s degree, I joined the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi, for a PhD on Plant Physiology. Upon the completion of my PhD, I got selected for the Agricultural Research Service of the ICAR. During my service, I earned, Post Graduate Diploma in Patent Laws from NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad and certificates in Intellectual Property Rights from the WIPO World Wide Academy.

Sridhar Gutam in Bonn, 2013

Sridhar Gutam in Bonn, 2013

What is your current affiliation?

As I said earlier, I am in the Agricultural Research Service of the ICAR and currently working as a Senior Scientist (Plant Physiology) at the ICAR’s constitutive establishment, ICAR Research Complex for Eastern Region, Research Centre in Ranchi.

Would you like to introduce us to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR)? What are your role & responsibilities in ICAR?

ICAR_logoThe ICAR is an apex body of the National Agricultural Research System of India, coordinating agricultural research, education and extension in the country through its own establishments having more than 100 institutes and also through the State Agricultural Universities (SAUs) which are about 71 in number established by the various states in the country. The NARS of India is one of the largest national agricultural research systems in the world and has played a greater role in the agricultural research, education and development in India. The IARI from where I earned my PhD is the seat of Green Revolution in India.

And coming to my responsibilities, I am now a Senior Scientist (Plant Physiology) working on Plant Physiological aspects of Agricultural and Horticultural Crops. Besides this, out of my passion, I am advocating Open Access, Open Data and Open Education through the community platform, Open Access India. And in my organisation, I am advocating for advocacy on opening up of Agricultural Data and Information for Agricultural Development..

You are the founder of the Open Access India initiative and an Ambassador of the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKFN). How would you describe your commitment to Open Access through these initiatives?

As I mentioned earlier that I am passionate for the ‘Open Access, Open Data and Open Education’ and to take it further into masses (researchers/students/policy makers)m I along with others started Open Access India, an advocacy group online initially on Facebook. It is now very much active with about 8900+ members discussing and debating on the issues related to ‘Openness’. Following my activities related to “Open Access”, I have been nominated as OKFN Ambassador from India. All these recognitions and support made me more committed towards ‘Openness’ and work for interventions which would bring more people towards ‘Openness’ and commit themselves to it.

Open Access India

Through the support of my colleagues and friends, and especially Dr. Satyabrata Maiti, the first Open Access Journal in the ICAR, the Open Access Journal of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants started in 2010 and got an opportunity to actively contribute to the ICAR’s Open Access policy. Now Open Access India has a working group and an advisory group to prepare a programme and take forward the Open Access movement in India. Though the Open Access policies were formulated and mandated by the most popular research councils in the country, we see that still there is a need for building awareness and capacity building among the researchers and to bring not only the scholarly articles, but all the public funded research outputs be it a computer programme or an enabling technology or a seed and planting material under Open Access.

You are one really active agricultural researcher and an advocate of Open Access to research outcomes; what do you think of Open Science and Open Research in the agricultural context? Do you see any obstacles yourself in your daily research work? 

The Open Science and Open Research are the building blocks of the societal development. And the agriculture is the world’s oldest profession and is a way of life of many people. Therefore, the recent scientific advancements in the agricultural science and research should reach the farming community and agricultural researchers immediately so that they can use them freely, work upon them for further modifications and development. With this, we believe that there would be a wonderful growth of agriculture for development. The data and information generated through the agricultural research and development when made open for the public to use, new knowledge can be generated which can be to put into use to achieve the complex challenges now being faced by the agriculture under the changing climate scenario.

Our country’s former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had made a famous statement “everything else can wait, but not agriculture”. This statement is true for all the sciences and the science and research should be open for everyone to use with unrestricted access.

Everything else can wait, but not agriculture.

Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s former Prime Minister

What are the challenges that a researcher like you is facing on a daily basis, regarding the dissemination of his/her research outcomes? What kind of issues do you face and how do you overcome them?

Now a days all researchers are facing the challenge of ‘availability’ and ‘accessibility’ of the research outputs. With the advent of the Web 2.0, the ease of communication of research results is being obstructed by the pay walled journals and the other legal and technical restrictions or barriers to its use or to mine the published content. Though the organisations are working to get the access to the published journal articles by spending a good amount of the budget allocated to them, still many of the researchers don’t get access to published materials. And they also don’t have the access to the published and unpublished data for data mining and to develop applications to generate or build new knowledge with that data. And when the data is available, is not in the open formats, which is making it inaccessible.

 

In my opinion, the researchers can themselves solve this availability and accessibility issues when they get themselves aware about the need for ‘Openness’ and the joy of ‘Sharing’ and the great benefits they can reap with the ‘Openness’ and ‘Sharing’ attitudes. Now with the gaining momentum of Open Access movement worldwide, the majority of the journals are allowing some kind of archiving and there are mandates and policies for making available the research outputs publicly with some kind of embargo period. If all the researchers and teachers of the research and educational institutes practices self-archiving in Open Repositories, we can overcome the accessibility and availability issues.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Yes, now that the Open Access India community has pledged its support for the global and local initiates on Open Access, Open Data and Open Education, it would now be working for the development of a National Open Access Policy for India. We are already part of the other community initiatives such as GODAN, CIARD, AIMS, etc. which are working for Opening up of Access to Information and Data related to Agriculture. Now we would like to do advocacy for ‘Free Seeds’ in collaboration with the Open Source Seeds Initiative.

Another most important thing which we we are mostly interested is building the community open access repository for India in which everyone who has the institutional affiliation or not can deposit and share their works freely something similar to OpenDepot.org during this Open Access Week 2015 celebrations.

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