Status of ICASA
On July 1, 2011 the International Consortium for Agricultural Systems Applications (ICASA) was officially dissolved.
As a center “without walls” and with no financial support, ICASA has been for many years at the forefront in promoting collaboration among system scientists. ICASA has stimulated the advancement of crop modeling and decision support systems and underlying data standards for model evaluation. ICASA also has played a key role in the training of many scientists on crop modeling and associated applications for assessing crop production, nutrient management, climatic risk, and environmental sustainability under a changing climate. However, with the advancement of the internet and e-mail, there is less need for generic networks or virtual consortia as many projects or societies now unite both physically and digitally.
Following is an official letter from Co-Chairs of ICASA:
Last year during the first meeting of the AgMIP initiative (http://www.agmip.org), the future of ICASA was addressed and discussed with many of you. During that meeting we, as co-chairs, explained that ICASA in its current structure and with zero funding has developed (over the past period) and will develop very limited activity. Since the early 1990s when ICASA was established, times have changed drastically. Funding of research is now mostly on a project basis. Communication through internet and email is trivial. Scientists have less need for generic networks or virtual consortia as there are projects or societies that unite, either physically or digitally. Although the main aims of ICASA (see Annex) are still valid and have relevance, ICASA with zero funding offers insufficient prospect to realize these aims.
The most notable recent example of project-based collaboration is the AgMIP initiative, which aims at bringing together the global crop modelling community on a longer-term basis to compare, improve and apply agricultural models. There is a major overlap of people involved in ICASA, and AgMIP offers multiple opportunities to further many of the original ICASA aims.
Recently, a more urgent and short-term problem emerged calling for a decision as to the future of ICASA: Goro Uehara and Gordon Tsuji at the University of Hawaii have long taken care of ICASA paperwork such as filing annual tax statements and paying for the ICASA web site (using funds donated by DSSAT). That arrangement suddenly has ended due to a change in rules relating to activities of retired employees at the University of Hawaii. ICASA has no other obvious alternative for this support. Also, we as co-chairs, after two terms of three years, are not available for a next term.
In summary, times have changed and running a network with zero funding and little to zero institutional back up is virtually impossible. The aims of ICASA can well be supported by new global research projects, of which AgMIP is an outstanding example as it also serves as an open network. Its website will take over several of the ICASA website features. DSSAT specific activities, the most obvious and visible part of ICASA recently, will be continued through a DSSAT foundation.
As co-chairs, we therefore proposed to the ICASA Board members to close down ICASA. They have voted through signed letters. Of 15 board members, we have eleven votes for closure and no votes in favour of maintain ICASA. The Articles of Incorporation (Article XI, “Dissolution of the Corporation”, Section 11.1) states:
“No voluntary dissolution of the corporation or liquidation of its assets shall take place without the assent of a majority of the directors of the corporation, obtained by vote at a meeting of the directors of the corporation duly called and held for the purpose of authorizing such dissolution or liquidation.”
Given that we have the required majority vote in favour of closure, we are now in the process of closing ICASA. We are exploring passing ICASA materials to other groups such as AgMIP, and former ICASA material will likely be migrated to the DSSAT web site. We hope that the DSSAT website will continue to serves as a site for posting general announcements. We invite ICASA members to join alternate listservers such as AgModels, DSSAT and AgMIP. Instructions for joining these lists are found at:
- AGMODELS: http://www.lsoft.com/scripts/wl.exe?SL1=AGMODELS-L&H=LISTSERV.UNL.EDU
- DSSAT: http://www.lsoft.com/scripts/wl.exe?SL1=DSSAT&H=LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
- AgMIP: http://lists.agmip.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/agmip
Before closing, we want to remark that ICASA has had important impact over the years. This includes:
- Development of the ICASA data standards, which are being used by AgMIP.
- Co-sponsorship of various international symposia relating to systems research.
- Hosting of 14 sessions of the “ICASA Open Forum” at the annual meetings of the ASA, CSSA, SSSA.
- Providing a forum for developing collaborations such as AgMIP and the highly successful International Consortium for Sugarcane Modelling.
Board members concurred with our proposal to close down ICASA, but many responded with achievements and positive influences of ICASA, for instance:
- ICASA has been a constructive and motivating influence – it has helped the crop growth, water use and yield modelers and more generally the agricultural systems modelers progress our understanding and management of these systems.
- There is little doubt that crop and agri-ecological modelling will increasingly be needed to help develop management and policy options for improving our food production and protecting soil, water and biota resources. Our ongoing challenge is to teach and enthuse another generation of researchers and model users.
- I firstly wanted to say I think ICASA and the DSSAT activities that kicked it off in the first place can be proud of what was achieved in getting simulation modelling established as a key component of agricultural R&D.
- Funding constraints certainly limited what ICASA could achieve in a project sense but it maintained a sense of community until the present time.
- I do see however that the time has come for ICASA to move on having done its job in many ways – crop-soil models are used extensively now and there is no risk that is going to disappear in a hurry. Other initiatives and collaborative project activities are underway and there is a global community of crop-soil and farming systems modellers who know each other and will work together in project settings.
- I believe that ICASA has served a useful purpose, and I am very grateful to all concerned for having had the opportunity to interact with like-minded researchers and to move the agenda forward in understanding and managing agricultural systems. We face enormous challenges in ensuring food security for all and at the same time sustaining the environment, and systems approaches will play an increasingly critical role if we are to meet them.
As the chairs of ICASA, we thank the many ICASA members who have supported ICASA’s goals over the years, and we look forward to continuing to work with you through AgMIP, the proposed DSSAT foundation and similar venues. We especially want to recognize the efforts of Goro Uehara, Gordon Tsuji and Gerrit Hoogenboom in providing critical support for administration of ICASA and maintenance of the ICASA web site.
Martin van Ittersum
Four roles for ICASA as identified in 2007 during a discussion between co-chairs and several Board members.
- Modelling: how to model cropping and farming systems, at different levels of detail depending on purposes. What is the proper way of modeling processes?
- Model components: can we agree on a common protocol for devising and exchanging model components that represent such different ways of modeling processes (in relation to different aims).
- Data and databases: build upon the initiative of Jeff White and Frits van Evert about publishing and sharing data. Agree on feasible and robust protocols.
- Teaching systems analysis in agriculture: offer a platform for organizing international courses on agricultural systems analysis and applications.