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Editorial

The Challenge of getting Africa onto the Global Map of Scholarly Publishing:
The Case of AJFAND www.ajfand.net

GUEST SPEAKER:

Hon. Prof. Ruth Oniang'o, Founder Editor-in-Chief

Friday, April 4th 2008 4:00PM
Faculty of Business Block 245 / 130, University of Botswana Main Campus

Summary

Publishing a scholarly peer reviewed journal poses some unique challenges for many African countries. The experiences of AJFAND, a journal published in Kenya provides some lessons in these challenges. It is one of the pioneer journals in Africa that focuses on food and nutrition and related areas, and attempts to link research and development. AJFAND has been one of the journals that have pioneered exclusive electronic publishing in Africa. This helped reduce the distribution costs substantially. The print version days saw three fourths of the cost go to postage. Efforts to collaborate with Kenya Posts Authority to give us some concessions did not bear much fruit. The number of visits to the journal website however, has been steadily rising. Among the challenges the journal has faced include getting a sufficient number of dedicated reviewers as well as sustaining the publishing and distribution costs. Relatively few individuals or even institutions within Africa have the resources to subscribe to a journal. Another limitation is that internet access is not available to many potential readers, although this has changed substantially in the recent past. On the positive side, there are many young and enthusiastic contributors who submit articles. Some of the issues addressed are uniquely African, and may not be relevant for publication in journals published outside the continent. For this and many other reasons that will be highlighted in the present presentation, publishing AJFAND remains relevant.

Introduction

The African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development (AJFAND), is among the very few internationally renowned peer reviewed journals published in Africa. It was launched in August 2001, as the African Journal of Food and Nutritional Sciences (AJFNS), so as to provide a platform, through which food and nutrition issues and information concerning Africa, and its unique problems could be effectively addressed and disseminated. A second objective of launching the journal was to provide a capacity building facility in scholarly publishing for budding African scholars. Such journals are indeed very few in Africa, resulting in frustrations among those who wish to publish on African nutrition and related issues. It soon became evident that these issues were also very closely linked to agriculture and human development in Africa. In recognition of this close linkage, the name of the journal was changed to AJFAND.

A number of issues addressed in the articles is uniquely African and may not be suitable for publication in journals outside Africa, or to readership outside the continent Such issues include indigenous African foods., and preparation and processing of these foods; food insecurity and malnutrition, hunger and the challenges associated with agriculture, modern technology such as GMO and its opposition amidst food insufficiency, women in agriculture and so on. The journal initially aimed at releasing two issues per year. Indeed it did and each issue carried about 10 research articles and one or two student articles. The student articles aimed at encouraging and introducing university students to the culture of publishing.

Progress of the journal

Since its inception, the journal has grown from strength to strength as evidenced by the diversity and caliber of submissions received. It receives submissions from all over Africa. Fairly frequently, submissions are received from outside Africa, including Europe, USA and Asia.

The first issues of the journal were the conventional print version. From March 2002, the journal went online, with the website www.ajfns.net. Since November 2003, the journal has been issued entirely online; with the change of name, the website is www.ajfand.net. The benefits that have been reaped by going online include: shorter production cycles, increased visibility and recognition, more efficient quality control through electronic peer review, greater versatility in the design of the electronic files and an opportunity to build capacity in electronic publishing. Online publishing has also significantly reduced the production and distribution costs of the journal. Viewer activity has gradually been increasing at the journal’s website. A summary of such activities for the months of April to February, 2008 is given in Table 1.

The online publishing efforts have attracted technical support from various organizations among them the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP), the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) among others.

Table 1: Activities at the  AJFAND website, April 2006 to February, 2008
AJFAND website on BIOLINE [www.bioline.org.br/nd ] - USAGE STATISTICS - 2008


Activity

Months

 

January

February

Visits

807

911

Requests to view particular abstracts

3010

2728

Requests for full-text articles

3378

3800

Requests for information for authors/about journal

310

348

Number of users looking at the list of issues available on Bioline

409

517

Number of users that have looked at lists of article titles

964

964

Number of times this journal appeared in search results

104

142

Total hits

5972

6682


AJFAND website on BIOLINE [www.bioline.org.br/nd ] - USAGE STATISTICS - 2007


Activity

Months

 

Jan

Feb

Mar

April

May

June

July

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Visits

328

340

314

326

670

545

407

394

676

779

847

662

Requests to view particular abstracts

634

897

1544

837

1582

2542

2906

2169

2938

3100

3077

2564

Requests for full-text articles

748

952

860

1086

1642

2073

2393

2445

2645

3415

3527

2826

Requests for information for authors/about journal

127

145

176

124

168

188

236

226

236

240

212

241

Number of users looking at the list of issues available on Bioline

194

194

196

142

266

208

239

228

367

393

447

363

Number of users that have looked at lists of article titles

199

212

374

258

482

451

507

696

613

824

897

616

Number of times this journal appeared in search results

81

40

33

29

47

44

39

51

80

142

126

69

Total hits

1627

1883

1953

1965

3275

3509

3821

4040

4617

5793

6056

4777


AJFAND website on BIOLINE [www.bioline.org.br/nd ] - USAGE STATISTICS - 2006


Activity

Months

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

Visits

54

206

212

223

265

219

271

216

215

Requests to view particular abstracts

33

127

211

198

675

354

441

403

1058

Requests for full-text articles

28

195

252

245

439

305

343

384

492

Requests for information for authors/about journal

12

62

72

99

129

105

101

97

122

Number of users looking at the list of issues available on Bioline

16

76

61

94

100

91

98

171

105

Number of users that have looked at lists of article titles

18

72

65

79

97

109

123

161

140

Number of times this journal appeared in search results

3

15

18

12

10

9

18

15

4

Total hits

131

626

680

752

1040

838

954

1044

1075

 

Several articles previously published in AJFAND were included in “Bibliografrica” – a CD-ROM featuring a state-of-the art reading list comprising leading publications on food and nutrition security in Africa. This CD-ROM was distributed to the participants of the all-Africa Conference on "Assuring Food and Nutrition Security in Africa by 2020: Prioritizing Action, Strengthening Actors, and Facilitating Partnerships," held in Kampala, Uganda on April 1-3, 2004, hosted by the Government of Uganda and sponsored by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). This provided a unique marketing opportunity for the Journal. Increased visibility has paid off as we no longer have to solicit for articles. Manuscripts come in on a weekly basis and sometimes on a daily basis. The process of checking each manuscript for conformity to the AJFAND basic guidelines is quite involving but at he same time shows promise as more and more authors prove to us that they are adhering to the checklist.

Challenges

The quality of papers submitted has also been an issue of considerable concern. A number of papers fail to meet the standards required by the journal. A surprising problem is that a large number of such papers do not conform to the format of the journal. It appears that the authors do not read or they simply ignore to refer to the instructions availed to authors.  A submission that has not conformed to the format and requirements of the journal stands little chance of getting published. Clearly we do not wish to earn the title of “dumping ground”.

Another challenge is the availability of committed reviewers. It may take a long time for manuscripts to be reviewed because some reviewers are either too busy or not committed enough. This may also lead to a delay in the release of a journal issue. The situation is also not good for the image of the journal, as the authors are often anxious to know the fate of their manuscripts. Many authors are understanding only after their manuscripts have been published and then they appreciate the strict scrutiny their paper has to undergo before publication. They get back and thank us for being strict.

Exclusive electronic publishing has also not been without its problems. Among the challenges faced on this issue include lack of electronic archiving space for past issues of the Journal. Such space involves additional costs. There is also loss of characters upon conversion of the files and delays in the production cycle due to inadequacy of the requisite ICT facilities and inadequate skills among some of its reviewers.  Additionally, internet access is still a problem in many parts of Africa. But on a positive note, that is changing very fast.
The issue of funding is another challenge that the journal has had to face. Most readers of the journal in Africa simply do not have the resources to subscribe to the journal at a fee. It is such readers who benefit most from the information contained in the articles. For their sake, even the internet access to the journal website is free. Hence the option of meeting the costs of production through subscription is not applicable. Indeed the journal has mainly depended on the dedicated efforts of its Editor- in- Chief, ROP staff and support of donors. We could use more support, given the Open Access Policy around the world on published scholarly work.

What does publishing mean for Universities?

Thanks to the internet, one can extract considerable authentic literature. It is now beginning to be commonly accepted fact that the human race started in Africa some 7 to 8 million years ago. My visits to Mali have brought to the fore the realization that African scholarly writing has been around for a long time and was unearthed in Timbaktu, a place that still is not easy for many of us to get to. So what went wrong? Historians should aggressively research into this and bring it out in the open for our youth.

See the quote below:
Happily, the past few decades of scholarly research have begun to dramatically change these views. On a world scale, prehistoric Africa has been shown to be a major innovator in the development of ceramics (by 9,000 years before present), in the domestication of cattle (by 8,000 years before present), and in iron technology (by 2,800 years before present). Regarding Mali, the chronology and development of its ancient states has been re-cast. Instead of power centers being created by Arab run Trans-Saharan trade, beginning around 800 A.D., we now know that there were cities along the Middle Niger as early as 300 A.D. (Jenne-jeno, Dia, and others). These emergent urban centers featured mudbrick architecture, city walls, and thriving markets. Indeed, we may trace the origins of the complex societies which inhabited these towns to earlier Mande 'chiefdoms' which existed along the Dhar Tichitt-Oualata escarpment range in Mauritania (by 1250 B.C.). The roots of cultural complexity along the Niger appear to have been founded more on inter-regional trade in commodities (cattle, salt, grain, minerals, etc.) than upon the lure of exotic goods from the Mediterranean world. The archaeological landscape between Djenne and Timbuktu is dotted with the mounded remnants of hundreds of ancient towns and villages. So far only a handful of these have been even test-excavated and much remains to be learned from their investigation. Additionally, historians have begun to increasingly respect the oral historical legacy of Malian griots, whose generations of memorized knowledge now supplement and challenge Arabic textual sources. Through the media and tourism Americans and Europeans are beginning to learn of such surprising things as the one thousand year old city of Djenné and its Sudanic architectural style (see Great Mosque of Djenne), the ancient "University of Timbuktu," (see Sankore Mosque) and the even more ancient accomplishments of the peoples of Mali. The substance behind the ancient myths of Mali, which enthralled 19th century explorers, is beginning to become clear, and the future promises to bring ever more of West Africa's cultural heritage to light.
By Dr. Kevin C. MacDonald

About Aluka

Mission

Aluka is an international, collaborative initiative building an online digital library of scholarly resources from and about Africa. Our name, ‘Aluka’, is derived from a Zulu word meaning ‘to weave’, reflecting Aluka’s mission to connect resources and scholars from around the world.
Aluka seeks to attract high-quality scholarly content about Africa from institutions and individuals across the globe. By contributing their collections to the Aluka platform, content owners will have a means of offering access to their collections to an international audience—without having to develop and support their own technology platforms. Aluka’s web-based platform provides powerful tools for research, teaching, collaboration, and knowledge exchange.
The Aluka website includes a wide variety of high-quality scholarly materials contributed by Aluka’s partners, ranging from archival documents, periodicals, books, reports, manuscripts, and reference works, to three-dimensional models, maps, oral histories, plant specimens, photographs, and slides. By aggregating these materials online, the Aluka collections link materials that are widely dispersed and difficult to access, opening up new opportunities for research, teaching, and broader public discussion. One of Aluka’s primary objectives is to provide African scholars and students with access to scholarly materials originally from Africa, but now out of their reach.
Aluka also works closely with partner organisations in Africa to build capacity in digitisation and the use of online materials for teaching and research. In some cases this includes setting up digital labs and providing technical training in scanning and creating metadata records; in others, Aluka convenes training workshops for librarians, archivists, faculty, and heritage professionals on topics related to digital imaging, preservation, and the use of online tools in the classroom. 
To demonstrate the potential of Aluka as a scholarly resource, three content areas are currently under development: African Cultural Heritage Sites and Landscapes, African Plants, and Struggles for Freedom in Southern Africa.  New materials are added to the collections on an ongoing basis. In the longer run, our hope is that Aluka’s work in Africa will be a model for expanding the initiative to other regions of the developing world.
Aluka is a project of Ithaka, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to promote innovation in higher education by providing research, strategic services, and infrastructure support to promising new initiatives (www.ithaka.org). Start-up funding for Ithaka and Aluka has been provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and The Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

Audience

Aluka’s principal audience is the higher education and research community, both in Africa and around the world, including colleges, universities, research and policy centres, and cultural institutions. The materials are selected primarily with undergraduate students and their instructors in mind, but the content is also valuable to graduate students and upper-level secondary students. Certain materials, such as high resolution images of plant specimens and GIS databases, are valuable for specialised research purposes.

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The Editorial this time was meant to share with our wider readership, the above information concerning the journal, how it started and the way it has performed thus far. I hope you have found it useful. My appreciation goes to the Univesity of Botswana for hosting me for the lecture and for their support over the years in terms of reviewing of articles as well as providing quality manuscripts.

Thank you.

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