Case study: Research4Life and its impact on an agronomist in Burkina Faso

Dr. Sami Hyacinthe Kambire talks about how the AGORA program led to ‘a revolution in my life as a researcher’

On this video, Dr. Sami Hyacinthe Kambire, an agricultural researcher from Burkina Faso, talks about how Research4Life, and specifically, the AGORA program, has helped him develop better and more informed scientific writing skills, produce focused research he can discuss with top researchers, compete more effectively for research funding, and be a better teacher.[divider]

In 2002, agronomist Sami Hyacinthe Kambire wrote up his research on the effect of organic fertilizers on tomato wilt caused by the fungus Ralstonia solanacearum. The disease, which attacks the leaves of the tomato plant, makes it impossible to grow tomatoes in the dry season in several regions of Burkina Faso.

Dr. Kambire was anxious about his research from the start, given that his most recent reference was 13 years old. Nevertheless, he wrote up the paper and submitted it for publication. Several months later, he received the rejection that he had almost anticipated. Sure enough, one of the reasons for the rebuff was that he had cited out-of-date references. Unable to access more recent literature, he reluctantly filed the paper away, unseen by agronomists elsewhere.

Dr. Kambire, an agronomist in Burkina Faso’s Institute for Environment and Agricultural Research (INERA by its French acronym), was a frustrated researcher. Although INERA was part of the Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation, like most research organizations in the country, it could not afford subscriptions to up-to-date international journals.

“This situation was untenable,” he recalled. “Without access to scientific information, it is impossible to formulate relevant research topics, and write and publish quality scientific articles. It is impossible to work effectively as a researcher.”

‘A revolution in my life as a researcher’

In 2008, he attended a training session run by the Information Training and Outreach Centre for Africa (ITOCA), an organization that improves information and communications technology skills for researchers in sub-Saharan Africa. In that workshop, he was introduced to Research4Life’s AGORA program, which provides access to over 3,100 peer-reviewed journals covering agriculture and related fields. Dr Kambire describes that moment as “a real revolution in my life as a researcher” that boosted his confidence in his work.

Working in INERA’s Department of Natural Resources Management and Production Systems, Dr. Kambire is a specialist in soil fertility management, soil and water conservation and environmental assessment. He also teaches agronomy students from the Université Polytechnique de Bobo Dioulasso and the Centre Agricole Polyvalent de Matourkou.

Gaining exposure to the world-leading research available via AGORA has had a profound effect on his work. With access to relevant literature, Dr. Kambire said, he can perform research much faster and his scientific writing ability has improved substantially, for both research papers and funding proposals.

This increase in efficiency has boosted his research output. Before AGORA, Dr. Kambire found that he often devoted large amounts of time to research that had already been performed elsewhere. But without access to journals, he had no way of knowing if he was doing work that had been done before.

Unwelcome discovery

Several years later, when Dr. Kambire experienced his career-changing moment, the first thing he did was to use AGORA to search for research on tomato wilt. He was shocked to discover a large number of papers on the topic, from several countries. It was a defining moment: for years he had assumed he was one of few researchers working on this problem; all of a sudden he was faced with the reality that his work was not as original as he had thought.

Encouragingly, however, results from other researchers confirmed his own. Since then, Dr Kambire has written and submitted his own research papers – one on determining the critical level of soil organic matter in Burkina Faso’s smallholder farming systems, and another on predicting maize yield using rainfall data during the rainy season planting period.

Research4Life’s AGORA program showed Dr. Kambire that his research was not as original as he had thought – but this realization was exactly what he needed to lift his work to international standards.

With his improved understanding of developments in his field, he said he knows that his work is relevant and he is confident discussing research issues with leading scientists worldwide. This broader knowledge has also boosted his ability to gain international funding for his work, including a grant for a project on strengthening capacity for the diagnosis and integrated management of pest problems in Burkina Faso. In addition, with access to the latest information, he said his teaching quality has improved as well.

AGORA has also made Dr. Kambire aware of the importance of information management. In this light, he has become a strong advocate of researchers working more closely with librarians. He said this relationship is not strong, with African researchers unaware of how librarians can help them, and librarians under the impression that researchers undervalue their efforts.

“Researchers should thank the librarians, who help find their bibliographies,” he said. “The work they perform is science without acknowledgement.”
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AGORA and Research4Life

Research4LifeResearch4Life is a public-private partnership of over 200 academic publishers, four UN agencies, Yale and Cornell Universities and the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (STM). With the support of technology partner Microsoft, the program is providing free or low-cost online access to nearly 30,000 peer-reviewed journals, books and databases to over 6,000 institutions in more than 100 developing countries and territories.

Research4Life comprises four programs: HINARI for health, AGORA for agriculture, OARE for environment and ARDI for innovation. Launched in 2003, AGORA is managed by the Food and Agriculture Organization in partnership with Cornell University and over 80 publishers. Over 2,500 institutions have registered for access to AGORA which provides access to over 3,100 high quality international journals covering agriculture, fisheries, food, nutrition, veterinary science and related biological, environmental and social sciences. The journal can be searched using a special subset of CAB abstracts.

Elsevier’s contribution

Elsevier is a founding member of Research4Life and contributes more than 25 percent of the content. ScienceDirect provided over 6 million article downloads in 2012 — a 41 percent increase over 2011. The Elsevier Foundation’s Innovative Libraries in Developing Countries Program provides additional infrastructure-building, medical library needs assessments, preservation of unique research and training. In 2013 all four new grants were to boost information literacy to enable use of Research4Life content.[/note][divider]

The Author

[caption align="alignleft" width="140"] Ylann Schemm Ylann Schemm[/caption]Ylann Schemm (@ylannschemm) manages Elsevier’s corporate responsibility program, which focuses on advancing women in science and developing research access in the developing world. She is the communications team chair for Research4Life, a unique UN-pan publisher partnership to provide free or low cost access to researchers in the developing world. Ylann is based in Amsterdam.

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