An Open Science Cloud for Europe’s agri-food research skies

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During these strange, troubling times, Europe seems to be trying to make some steps towards closer collaboration and integration. The strategy for creating a Digital Single Market is one of these desired steps that will try to bring together the 28 member states at the online space. And as far European research is concerned, a major decision has been taken during the past few weeks by some of the key stakeholders that drive the digital science (or eScience) agenda: to join forces and create a so-called European Open Science Cloud for Research.

Five leading Europan initiatives (EUDATLIBEROpenAIREEGI and GEANT) that are working on different parts of e-infrastructures to facilitate research, have published a position paper that describes their joint vision on empowering research data sharing, data stewardship and data reuse in Europe for the benefit of innovation and growth. To my understanding, this practically means aligning their agendas and the use of investments that they attract, so that a very large, open and common infrastructure for digitally-supported, data-powered research may be offered to European researchers.

What is the role that thematic e-infrastructures like our agINFRA can play in such a grand vision? Here are some of my initial thoughts:

  • agINFRA is bringing forth the needs of all actors involved in research on topics related to agricultural and food sciences, including researchers, data managers, software developers and research project managers. It is therefore a channel for understanding (and hopefully service) existing needs and requirements, first.
  • It is a community node that is actively supporting a large network of research and academic institutions, through help desk services such as the AGRIS one. In this capacity, it has the knowledge, expertise and mechanisms for supporting the onboarding and guidance process of potential users of the Open Science Cloud.
  • There are some very active communities that already focus on research information sharing, embraced by and operating with support by agINFRA. The FAO AIMS community of data/information managers is an excellent example – also very active in the Research Data Alliance (RDA) through the Agricultural Data Interest Group (IGAD).
  • A variety of widely recognised services that help in improving discovery and linking of heterogeneous information, are now part of the agINFRA offerings. The most prominent example is FAO’s AGROVOC and its undergoing harmonisation with CAB Thesaurus and USDA’s NAL Thesaurus within the GACS project.
  • agINFRA is strategically represented and linked with all major data initiatives in agriculture and nutrition (such as CIARD, GODAN, and OADA).
  • There is ongoing work related to how agINFRA and its scientific communities can benefit from public cloud and grid services (through EGI-Engage), big data analytics (through Big Data Europe), as well as text and data mining (through OpenMinTeD).

It is our intention to build upon the existing legacy of agINFRA and work towards its evolution into a global hub (but also atlas) for research in agricultural and food sciences, in collaboration with our strategic partners around the world. Positioning agINFRA as one of the major thematic community nodes of the European Open Science Cloud seems like a rational choice, serving also Europe’s policy priority to address the major challenges related to food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, as well as the bioeconomy.

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