Archive for June, 2009

Going South

Wolaita Soddo, Ethiopia

After trying to visit this far away regeneration site of the Forage Genebank of ILRI for many years, the right opportunity finally arrived. Whenever I had planned for it before, there was always either a meeting or a social commitment I did not want to give up or just too much work to be interrupted.

I have lately been uploading information on the crop genebank website. After adding so much text I am feeling the urgent need to make it friendlier and to add several attractive pictures to it, to illustrate several processes of the genebank. I have been asking many of the colleagues in other genebanks to send me pictures. Some did send a few, but still not enough. The website is growing quite a bit and there is a lot of information but some difficult to visualize. It does not illustrate the great diversity out there and the wonderful colors, sizes and shapes we have not only in each crop but even within the same variety.

A two day visit to the regeneration field in Soddo, to successfully accompany a pick up loaded with more than 1800 young seedlings of forage legumes (pre-germinated and virus tested in the screen houses in Addis Abeba) to be transplanted in the regeneration fields took at least 8 hours of careful driving through several potholes and yielded more than 300 photos of plants in pots, plants in field plots, flowers, pods and many others. About a 1/5 of them are going to be used to make a few series of flip books (check next week for more details!).

A few more photos of the beautiful countryside in Southern Ethiopia were also taken (to keep me busy during the long hours inside the car) and shown below.

Thinking about the photos, it took me much more time than I initially realized to take, download, select, label (many of them with the correct scientific names) and put watermarks and upload them into the website. I understand now better, why many of you do not often find the time to send me the photos I keep asking for… But I think when eventually you find the time it is really worth!

Trying to find some more information about Soddo, I found this disturbing history, told about 9 years ago

http://www.hostelworld.com/community/travelstory.php/StoryNO.4

I am not sure things are still the same after a few years but I am afraid they are…

MAJ

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Once upon a time…

This is my personal overview of the creation of this website (behind the formal pages and from my point of view at the moment – others will have a different perspective – Would you like to give yours?). My point of view may also change within a few months!… As many say, history can be told from many perspectives, depending on the person telling it and also the tendencies of the times (the later the broader perspective and understanding; sometimes when ideas are too fresh it is too soon to tell the story…)

The first time I heard about Joomla was when I had to start to learn how to work with it. It took me a while to become confident and a few pages lost on the process. GC kindly helped me to upload them again and explained a bit more how to work on them. This was not very easy as we are based in two distinct continents. After several approaches, from writing long (and boring) explanatory emails to GC to working closely with an IT person (AT) from the same department for a brief period of time in Addis, we finally reached a good balance where another IT person (AS) is working with me 2 days a week to help me with the time consuming and sometimes a bit complicated stuff to regularly upload or correct in the website. GC is in the meantime doing a great job working on the background, layout, and structure and training part of the website (things that can be more easily coordinated at a distance). Lately IT joined us to help with editing and revision, as the site is getting bigger and bigger and more difficult to coordinate and keep an uniform layout.

The content to populate the website started to be collected soon after the layout of the website was drafted. It has not been easy. Many of the collaborators were so busy with so many equally important commitments that often had to be chased by our insistent phone calls and regular emails (many of you remember these for sure). I also used any opportunity of a meeting (or even a colleague as an intermediary when they happened to go somewhere and meet our key collaborators). I dragged many of you to informal meeting at odds times: before breakfast, at breakfast, during lunch or dinner or even after dinner. By the beach side in Mombasa or during evening cocktails in Lunteren, a tea break in Rome or a long road drive in Ethiopia. During airplane trips or while waiting at the airport in Washington DC. In the train to Maccarese or the bus to Machupichu.

A great challenge we have been facing since the very beginning is the unreliable and often slow internet speed we have most of the time in Addis. The extreme difficulty to use skype as a cheap communication tool, the time taken to search for references, the time taken (and sometimes impossibility due to low speed) to upload files into the web pages… These difficulties have required a lot of patience, flexibility and creativity but sometimes just a lot of frustration!

As we started to know better what we wanted and what it was needed, we started to made some small decisions and wait for people to comment. This was much faster and efficient than asking for opinions and wait for weeks until most had given their feedback.

One great improvement we got just a few months ago, was the fast, efficient and beautiful design of the website banner with the help of PT in Rome. It looks really attractive and helped us believe that, yes we can…

We started with a demo structure for the cassava and banana crops that was presented in Lunteren, Holland in 2007 and later adjusted and discussed in Lima, Peru a few months later. Ironically, now most of the seed crops are already uploaded and mostly finished but the cassava and banana (the clonal crops) are still pretty much like they were left at the time (about 18 months ago). The structure and layout evolved and now it is time to pick up the banana and cassava pieces, update them and adjust them to the new layout. This has been difficult to start for me. Somehow it is often easier (and more exciting) to shape new things from scratch than picking ‘old’ things and suit them to a new shape or size… But we only have about 6 months left until the end of the project and everything must be finished by then. So, no matter how difficult it is to pick up the pieces and blend them, we must do it…

MAJ

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Why? Just because…

I have learned about blogging and some other useful web 2.0 tools a bit more than a year ago. I started a personal blog soon after. I have enjoyed blogging about interesting issues and events I have been experiencing. I have been thinking about starting a more professional blog, but not so sure about the usefulness of it:

Is it worth the time?
Will you be interested in reading it?
Will you comment on it?
Will that improve your participation in the website we are making such a great effort to compile?

– The main idea of this blog is to have an informal tool to report (and possibly discuss and have some feedback) the ongoing work during the process of collecting and compiling information for the Crop Genebank Knowledge base (http://cropgenebank.sgrp.cgiar.org) website.
– It is to improve your awareness about the existence of our crop genebank website and have a more active participation from you.

– It is to give a more human perspective about what is going on and the main problems faced by all of us.

I wish we could receive more comments about the content we are uploading. I wish we could have more people sending interesting pictures from various genebank sites around the world. Sometimes very simple pictures illustrate very interesting processes, particularities and special characteristics of crops, places and people. Simple things sometimes (many times) matter a lot!

Anyway, after much thinking and contradictory feelings, we just decided to start this blog about genebanks and see what happens…

I just feel we need to share more and do this extra step…

MAJ

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