Rotting in cassava database hell

When one is seeking statistical information about a crop like, say, cassava, it is so rewarding to see a notice like this:

Statistics for cassava are extremely important for a variety of scientists, developers, economists, bankers, investors, policy makers and more.

Alas, like cassava itself, which starts to decompose almost as soon as it has been harvested, becoming unusable within 72 hours, the site that offers this validation appears to be suffering its own special form of post harvest physiological deterioration.

Go to the Cassava Statistics page of the grandiose Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century and you will discover that there is absolutely nothing of value there. Things that look like maybe, just perhaps, they could be links are not even broken links, although the site promises that they are:

For the convenience of the users we provide excel sheets and ppt presentations that have been organized in different ways (see above), to generate information that can be used readily.

Of course the actual statistics are from elsewhere, the FAO, no less. But FAOstat has been missing in action for as long as I can remember.

My point, though, is not just to hurl brickbats at the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century,1 not even for raising false hopes in me. It is to make the larger point that whenever these time-limited projects end, the online presence that they are so keen to launch at the start, slowly rots away. Very seldom is any thought (or support) given to maintaining their value. Maybe that’s because they have no value, but in that case, why not just give them a decent burial and be done with it?

I believe they may well have value, as an historical record if nothing else, as a source of lessons to be learned, perhaps, from mistakes made.

Now, in the specific case of GCP21 I combed through the website and didn’t actually find anything worth putting on life support, but it doesn’t look as if that was ever any part of a strategic decision, and it could have been. The Generation Challenge Programme, a similar beast, thoughtfully preserved most of its achievements in a website that, as far as I can tell, still works very well.

Every time-based project should plan for its end; kill it, or preserve it, but please don’t just let it rot away.

  1. Which, last time I looked, was less than one-fifth finished. []

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