Gates grant to extend knowledge in developing world

TEEAL project members
From left, Blessing Chataira, ITOCA deputy director; Joy Paulson, director of the TEEAL project; Erica Reniff, head of TEEAL outreach and client relations; Gracian Chimwaza, ITOCA executive director; and Betsy Elswit, TEEAL production coordinator.

Researchers in developing countries will gain enhanced access to agricultural research literature and a previously unpublished trove of information, thanks to a $4.9 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The award was made to Cornell’s Albert R. Mann Library and the South African-based nongovernmental organization Information Training and Outreach Centre for Africa (ITOCA) to expand the reach of The Essential Electronic Agricultural Library (TEEAL) in Africa and Asia.

TEEAL was founded in the early 1990s, on the belief that long-term improvements in food security and agricultural development would not be possible without giving scientists better access to current research. It is a searchable, offline, digital library available to public and nonprofit institutions in income-eligible countries.

The first TEEAL set of 172 CDs was shipped in 1999 to the University of Zimbabwe. The library now includes more than 1 million articles in more than 250 highly ranked journals, delivered on a small, 1-terabyte hard drive.

With funding from the three-year grant, staff at Mann Library will completely redesign the TEEAL system to include more material, including previously unpublished information collected by the Gates Foundation, as well as local scientific literature not currently disseminated. The foundation’s reports and documents will also be made available for free via the Web as part of a new online digital library.

“Access to these reports and documents coming out of other Gates-funded agricultural development projects, in addition to the research literature, provides material that can help researchers and policymakers move from research into practice,” said Mary Ochs, Mann Library director.

In January, Mann Library and ITOCA will begin working with universities, agricultural ministries and extension organizations in Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Bangladesh to provide enhanced access to the system.

The ultimate goal: 300 institutions with copies of a new and improved TEEAL, as well as training for more than 22,000 students, faculty, researchers, extension staff and government officials. The project also aims to create a self-sustaining model that expands the knowledge base.

“With this grant and the training it will support, many researchers stationed in academic and research institutions where Internet connectivity is still a challenge will have an opportunity to participate in up-to-date global research and address local challenges,” said Gracian Chimwaza, ITOCA executive director.

In 2009, a $1.8 million Gates Foundation grant allowed TEEAL and ITOCA to distribute 115 new TEEAL sets in 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Jim Morris-Knower is an outreach and applied social sciences librarian at Cornell University Library.

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