Livestock Research for Rural Development 11 (1) 1999

Citation of this paper

Experiences in the management and exchange of electronic information for sustainable agriculture

Nicholas Waltham

Fundación CIPAV,Cra 35A #3-66, Cali, Colombia


This paper gives an overview of the experiences of the CIPAV Foundation in the area of electronic publication and the technologies that are used. It describes how CIPAV, while executing one of its flagship projects (the electronic journal: Livestock Research for Rural Development), has passed from a technologically simple system of electronic publication to use the most recent tools of HTML formatting and publication as a Home page on the WWW.

Key words: Information dissemination, electronic publishing, review, Internet


The purpose of this paper is to give an overview of the experiences of the CIPAV Foundation in the area of electronic publication and the technologies that are used. It describes how CIPAV, while executing one of its flagship projects, has passed from a technologically simple system of electronic publication to use the most recent tools. A considerable effort has been made to make the journal what it is now, but there is still a lot to do. Continual work and updates are necessary so that a journal or a web page is always current. In the moment that this is stopped the leadership so far achieved begins to be lost.

The Electronic Journal (Livestock Research for Rural Development)


Livestock Research for Rural Development, published by the CIPAV Foundation was started in 1989. A need was identified to improve accessibility to relevant information in the developing world, particularly the tropical countries. Traditional print journals suffer from many disadvantages from the point of view of the developing world scientist. They are expensive to obtain,  the established mainstream journals are difficult to approach and get published in, the traditional peer review system is difficult to break into, and publishing times are very slow. An electronic journal can break down many of these barriers. The original version of LRRD was distributed on 5¼ inch disk. Although this had particular limitations, it was a much cheaper medium than a printed journal, and it had the advantage that the information could be easily copied.The disk could even be reused. The information was stored in ASCII, and a simple journal reader program written by Andrew Speedy was used to access the papers. The program had extremely low system requirements and would run on any DOS based IBM clone computer. It had the limitation of only 10 papers per issue and a maximum of 64k per paper (not a great limitation at the time, since the capacity of a 5¼-inch disk was only 360k)

Table 1: Storage capacity of disks

Diskette Capacity

Number of Pages ASCII Text

360 K


720 K


1.2 MB


1.44 MB


The journal kept to the printed journal paradigm, with a fixed page layout and page numbers, making it easy to reference in other journals, the reference system being not particularly suited to paperless publishing. The journal continued more or less unchanged for about 5 years; however, CIPAV during that time began distributing some of the issues on 3½ disk, since some newer computers came equipped with the newer, higher capacity drives, and so it was more convenient for some readers. Later, the program was developed a little more to provide compression, remove the limit of 10 papers per issue and the 64k paper limit and the ability to print out to different page sizes.


Box 1: The cover page of Volume 1, Number 1 of the electronic journal LRRD

During this time computers were becoming more powerful and users' expectations increased. One of the biggest needs was to have the ability to include graphics and photographs in papers. The widespread adoption of the operating environment Windows 3.1, gave CIPAV the opportunity to use the format of the Windows Help File for publishing information. This not only added the capacity to have graphics and photos, but also formatted text (bold, italic and different size fonts) and was generally easier to produce than the DOS version. Nonetheless during a changeover period CIPAV continued to produce the DOS version of LRRD for those users who where not able to use Windows on their machines.

More recently, the Internet (a 40 year old loosely knit network of computers) began to take off in a big way. Many more countries and users became connected. In 1994 Colombia got its first direct connection to the Internet (Red Cetcol).

Table 2: Internet Growth
Date Computers Domains Web Sites
Jul 98 36,739,000
Jan 98 29,670,000 2,500,000 2,450.000
Jul 97 19,540,000 1,301,000 1,200,000
Jul 96 12,881,000  488,000  300,000
Jul 95 6,642,000  120,000 25,000
Jul 94 3,212,000 46,000 3,000
Jul 93 1,776,000 26,000 150
Jul 92 992,000 16,300 50
Jul 89 130,000 3,900 -


Table 3: Number of Internet Users, 1998
World Total 148 millions
South America 4.5 millions
Africa 0.8 millions
Asia/Pacific 22 millions
Europe 33.25 millions
Middle East 0.75 millions
Canada and the USA 87 millions

This explosion in the use of the Internet further reduced the cost of exchanging electronic information, making it unnecessary to exchange disks or make long distance phone calls. The Internet and electronic mail made it possible to move large quantities of electronic information, cheaply, from one side of the world to the other in a few   minutes. With the help of Oxford Forestry Institute and other organisations, Livestock Research for Rural Development was made available firstly by ftp and gopher (the precursors of what is now the World Wide Web) from computers linked directly to the Internet. This meant that for the first time, anyone with access to the Internet could download what he or she needed whenever they wanted.

The next development came with the increasing availability of more sophisticated systems of publishing electronic information, more suited to the online form of publishing. The two most important systems are HTML and PDF. HTML (Hypertext Mark-up Language) is the native system for publishing information on the World Wide Web. When one reads information using a Netscape or Internet Explorer browser, one is usually looking at information that has been published in HTML. The PDF system developed by Adobe Systems, is a method of publishing information in electronic form that sticks to the paper paradigm. To publish in PDF, the document is prepared as for paper publishing,  except when printing, instead of printing to a printer, the document is printed to the PDF writer. A special reader is needed to read the documents, but this reader is available free for a wide variety of computer operating systems, including Windows, DOS, UNIX and Macintosh. Some issues of Livestock Research for Rural Development where produced using PDF format. However, due to the universal nature of HTML, this has become the preferred method. 

Distribution of LRRD on diskette ended in 1996. From 1997 onwards, Livestock Research for Rural Development has been published solely on the Internet. The entire 10 years of issues are now available in HTML format  from CIPAV's web site.

The present

In the last year there have been some important changes happening in parallel with the changing format and availability of LRRD. From the beginning of 1998 CIPAV has been experimenting with a new system of editing which is still undergoing rapid evolution. For many years, CIPAV and its collaborators, with the considerable help of Dr Thomas Preston, have been carrying out the edition of the journal. In the permanent struggle to   produce a better journal, an international editorial board was created, made up of scientists from different countries (Colombia, USA, France, UK, Denmark, and Venezuela). Papers are received in electronic format in Colombia and Vietnam, and then placed in a restricted area on CIPAV's website, where members of the editorial board can download them. They read them and make comments regarding acceptance, changes that should be made, or rejection. These comments are emailed to a closed mailing list so that each editor can see what others are thinking and doing. This greatly facilitates collective decision-making. Once the papers have been approved and the editors' comments taken into account, the papers can be released to the general public for them to read in a pre-publish list. Meanwhile, the editorial staff can work on final formatting and polishing of the paper. When 10 papers are finalised this formally becomes an issue, and an email is sent out to our subscriber list, currently 780, detailing links to the papers, so that for most mailers, the reader can click on the link in the email, and go straight to the paper. As a further service to readers, to promote the exchange of scientific information, there is a discussion group list, on which readers can discuss articles, and matters arising from articles.


Box 2: Livestock Research for Rural Development Home Page

The future

In the 10 years of publication of LRRD 300 articles have been published. This represents a valuable body of accumulated knowledge. However, due to its size, it is becoming more difficult to find out what is in it! Earlier this year CIPAV produced a CD of Livestock Research for Rural Development, containing all 10 issues linked to a database,  and circulated it amongst its close collaborators. We have taken into account their comments and are in the process of producing a final version with a corrected database. The search system has been written in Java, the universal programming language of the web, which means it will run in any web browser, either from the CD, or from the Internet.

Electronic Conferences

It is widely recognised that the considerable improvements that have been made in electronic communication have allowed reduction in costs and increased efficiency in the movement of information. However, a similar effect can be achieved with people. With this improved communication, it is now not necessary to bring everyone together under one roof (with all the cost that involves), to have a discussion, share ideas, and make useful conclusions. The electronic conference is the tool that allows that. An electronic conference can take many forms, but its most common form is a moderated electronic mailing list, moderated so that subscribers don't receive an avalanche of mail and to prevent heated arguments from being conducted in everyone's in-box.

Electronic conferences have many advantages many of them related to the reduced cost of operating this kind of conference compared with a conventional conference. It opens up the conference to many more people including students, producers, participants in developing countries, in fact - anyone with email who wants to participate, since the cost of participation is usually just the cost of running the email account (subscription to the service provider, and the phone costs). The comments and questions, since they are all in electronic form, can all be archived and searched - this can become in itself a valuable resource.

The process of conducting an electronic conference is quite straightforward. The tools you need are a web site and a list server. The web site can be used to make available the papers for readers to download and can hold the archives of the discussions for people to consult if they join the conference late. The list server is a computer operated mailing list that the moderators use to send out papers for discussion and the moderated comments they receive during the conference. Conference subscribers can add or remove themselves from the list server mailing list during the conference without the intervention of the moderator. Just before the start of the conference, the organisers send out an invitation email with instructions on how to join the conference. The conference can also be advertised on web sites, in news groups and other related lists. It is usually considered bad etiquette to subscribe someone to an electronic conference without first asking them. Once the conference is running, one or two papers can be sent out per week, depending on the level of reaction and participation, for the subscribers to comment on. The subscribers send their comments to a special address where the moderator can receive them. The moderator then sends out the comments suitably edited or just the most relevant comments if the volume is very high. It is important to keep the volume of an electronic conference manageable.  If it becomes too high, this is a disincentive to participation, and subscribers will often leave the list. The moderator's role is also critical to the extent of guidance of the discussion and promotion of comments.

To give a few statistics on electronic conferences, in the most recent electronic conference organised by FAO (Agroforestería para la Producción Animal en Latinoamérica), moderated by CIPAV, there were 273 people from 38 different countries (Table 4), of whom 48 participated actively either through sending articles, or making comments. This is equivalent to 17% active participation. This might seem a low level of participation, but this is the usual figure for this kind of event.

Table 4: Regional participation (countries) in the electronic conference


Latin America


Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile,
and the Caribbean Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador,
Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico,
Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru,
Dominican Republic, Salvador,
St. Vincent, Uruguay, Venezuela.


Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia*,
Spain, France, Greece, Italy
United Kingdom
North America


USA and Canada (including 7
Educational servers(EDU) y
4 commercial (COM) providers of
free electronic mail
Asia y Oceana


Australia, China, Nepal, New
Zealand y Vietnam.


Table 5: Participant Profile
Job type

% of the participants



Teachers or Lecturers




Consultants and Advisors


(Directors and Vice presidents)


Program co-ordinators


Editors of scientific publications


A home on the web

Around 1 year ago, CIPAV took the decision to increase its Internet presence to include a domain (, individual email accounts for everybody (eg: and to publish a World Wide Web home page (

It was felt that an Internet presence was important because it is an international shop window for people to learn about CIPAV's work and philosophy. It can be thought of as an 'on-line' business card. Also, one of CIPAVs important roles, apart from research, is publication and teaching. Having a home page on the web provides the opportunity to contribute to the global library of knowledge.

The domain ( was obtained from the domain registration authority in Colombia  (University of Los Andes). A domain is essentially the identity of an institution on the web. They are registered on a "first come first served" basis, and are essential to mount the other kind of services. It is necessary to pay an annual subscription to the domain registration authority in order to retain the name.

image13.gif (71535 bytes)

Box 3: The CIPAV Home page

In Colombia, the annual cost of the subscription is around USD100. It is also necessary to subscribe to an "Internet Service Provider", which will hold mail until it is collected and also put the web pages on their web server. This cost can be extremely variable. In CIPAV the email is managed by LINUX, which is an extremely reliable (and free) UNIX type operating system. The Internet server calls the CIPAV computer every three hours to collect and deliver the mail, which is placed in "pop3" mailboxes.

Table 6: Visitors to CIPAV's home page. . Note: This is not equal to the number of visitors to the whole web site

First time visitors

Return Visitors























Table 7: Location of visitors to CIPAV's home page
Domain Location %
.net Network 27.08
- Unknown 26.74
.com USA Commercial 8.69
.co Colombia 7.56
.edu USA Educational 4.28
.se Sweden 2.70
.za South Africa 1.80
.cr Costa Rica 1.80
.au Australia 1.80
.uk United Kingdom 1.58
.ca Canada 1.58
.org Non profit organisations 1.46
.de Germany 1.24
.dk Denmark 1.24
.mx Mexico 1.12
.es Spain 0.90
.nz New Zealand 0.90
.ve Venezuela 0.90
.fr France 0.67
.br Brazil 0.67
.ni Nicaragua 0.56
.nl Holland 0.56
.sg Singapore 0.45
.us USA 0.33
.pe Peru 0.33
.ar Argentina 0.33
.my Malaysia 0.22
.it Italy 0.22
.gov USA Government 0.22
.ch Switzerland 0.22
.ie Ireland 0.22
.bo Bolivia 0.22
.fi Finland 0.11
.ee Estonia 0.11
.sk Slovak Republic 0.11
.be Belgium 0.11
.cy Cypress 0.11
.cl Chile 0.11
.tt Trinidad y Tobago 0.11
.id Indonesia 0.11
.gy Guyana 0.11
.gt Guatemala 0.11
.th Thailand 0.11


CIPAV designs all its own web pages.  It is now no longer necessary to understand the language HTML to design web pages. Major word processing packages such as Word and WordPerfect are able to load and save documents in HTML.  For even better results you can use a specialised editing package such as Microsoft Frontpage. These tools give you a lot of flexibility in producing attractive web pages without specialist knowledge; however, there are other technologies such as Dynamic HTML, Java script and Java which can be used to produce a more dynamic and interactive web site. However, discussion of these options is beyond the scope of this document.


CIPAV Home Page:

Colombian (CO) Domain Registation Service:

Electronic Conference: Agroforestería para la producción animal en Latinoamérica:

History of the internet and WWW (Part 8 - Statistics):


Livestock Research for Rural Development:

'Microsoft Frontpage' Web page editor:

NUA Internet Surveys: How many online?

Received 24 December 1998

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