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Information and Communication Technology and National Agricultural

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									        iNARS: A FRAMEWORK FOR DEVELOPING AND
    IMPLEMENTING EFFECTIVE INFORMATION SYSTEMS FOR
       AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
                                Margaret Sraku-Lartey & Joel Sam
                               Forestry Research Institute of Ghana


INTRODUCTION

In terms of information and communication technologies (ICTs), the Ghana National Agricultural
Research System (NARS) and researchers have come a long way but still have a long way to go.
From a situation in the 1970’s when computers and electronic media were unheard of in agricultural
research, the NARS and its researchers today are using computers quite widely and to a lesser
extent internet-based ICT to communicate with each other and to carry out some important aspects of
their research activities. This encouraging development, however, has a long way to go, as it is
currently limited to a few researchers, and does not extend to the majority of the rural poor and their
direct collaborators, who are the extension workers and farmers.

This paper is an attempt to look forward to 2010 and visualize the state of current “research” and
“extension” systems mandated to improve rural livelihoods, drawing on possible change drivers in
these systems. The implications of these changes in terms of information, communication and
knowledge systems are discussed. The paper looks also at “farmer-technology interfaces” in terms of
future situation of farmers, consumers and other communities whose livelihoods depend to a large
extent on agricultural research and technology transfer. It looks as well at the “research-research
interface”, focusing on researchers and their institutions, in terms of their current uses of ICTs and in
terms of future priorities for research.


RESEARCH AND EXTENSION

Agricultural research began in Ghana over a century ago (1890) when the Aburi Botanical Garden
was established at Aburi in the Eastern Region. This botanical garden formed the nucleus for the
establishment of the Department of Agriculture, which assumed a leadership role in agricultural
research. Today there exists in Ghana more than 15 public and semi-public research institutions that
undertake agricultural research.


Current Situation of Research

Institutional Setting
Research activities in Ghana are co-ordinated by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
(CSIR).
There are thirteen research institutes within the CSIR, nine of which are agriculture-based,
researching into animals, food processing, crops, forestry, plant genetic resources, oil palm, water
resources in relation to agriculture and savannah and environmental issues. There are other public
institutions that are not co-ordinated by the CSIR, but which undertake agriculture-related research.
These are the Biotechnology and National Agricultural Research Institute (BNARI) and the Fisheries
and Veterinary divisions of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture.
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As a public institution the CSIR is financially supported by the Ghana government who has recently
pledged to increase its financial support to research from its current 0.3% to 1% of its Gross Domestic
Product (GDP) as stated in the National Science and Technology Policy document approved by
Parliament recently. (Government of Ghana, 2002)

The Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), which is one of the oldest research institutes in the
country is a semi public research institute supported by the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD). The
original responsibility of this Institute was in cocoa research but this was broadened later to include
sheanuts, coffee, cola and tallow.

There are also 5 public universities in Ghana each with a faculty of agriculture that engages in
agricultural research. Three of these universities (University of Cape Coast, Kwame Nkrumah
University of Science and Technology, University of Ghana) have biology, geography and
biochemistry departments that also engage in agriculture-related research in addition to teaching.
Other organisations that engage in some form of agricultural research include local and International
Non Governmental Organisations (NGO) like the Nature Conservation Research Centre (NCRC) and
Tropenbos Ghana just to mention a few. There are International Organisations that support national
agricultural research systems like the FAO which has its regional office for Africa in Ghana.

The CSIR together with the Cocoa Research Institute and Biotechnology and Nuclear Agricultural
Research Institute therefore form the nucleus of agricultural research in Ghana.

Performance of the Ghana NARS
The Ghanaian National Agricultural Research System (NARS) has grown steadily in the last 30years
by comparison with other African countries (Roseboom and Pardey, 1994). With financial support
from the Government, Ghanaian researchers in the NARS have performed excellently over the years,
developing a number of important agricultural technologies, including high yielding varieties of staple
and cash crops, cropping and agronomic practices which have raised to some degree the productivity
of Ghana’s agricultural sector. Challenges that continue to face researchers are the ability to develop
more technologies in all the sectors that will help to improve food security in the country. An
emerging threat to Agriculture is the AIDS pandemic which if not checked can drastically reduce the
lives of the working population including farmers.

In recent years however, with the downturn of the economy, public funding for agricultural research
began to dwindle, declining to the very minimum. Agricultural research now depends more and more
on external funding. Currently, 95% of ongoing research in the NARS is funded by a loan contracted
by the Government of Ghana (GOG) from bilateral partners. There is very little private sector support
to research. Unilever Ghana Limited provides one of the few examples of private involvement in
agricultural research in Ghana, with its current support to a research project in the forest sector.
Efforts are underway to encourage private sector involvement in research, through commercialisation
of research outputs in some disciplines. At the moment, these efforts are limited to few research
institutions that generate less than 5% of institutional requirements. Some institutes have tried to
improve the funding situation by writing more projects for donor support.

Consequently there is low morale among the highly qualified research scientists (most of them have
postgraduate qualification) due to lack of recognition from Government, poor incentives, low capacity
and inadequate facilities for full-scale research. For example very few researchers have a computer
to themselves and more often than not about 5 researchers have to share 1 computer. Laboratories
lack up-to-date equipment and adequate quantity and quality of necessary chemicals and other
laboratory products for research. Researchers are thus frustrated and are consistently leaving the
service of the CSIR. In the last year (2001-2002) alone, 44 scientists have resigned from the services
of the CSIR some of whom are in the agricultural sector.

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New Trends and Policy Changes
To help improve the situation the Ghana government contracted a loan from the World Bank
(US$123,730,000) in favour of the agricultural sector which is being administered under the
Agricultural Sub Sector Improvement Project (AgSSIP) project. Out of this, US$15,000,000 was
allocated to the NARS for a period of three years (2002-2004). An Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
Sector (AFFS) was therefore set up to oversee all research projects that would be sponsored under
this fund. An apex body, the Agricultural Research Policy Consultative Committee (ARPCC), which
co-ordinates all research activities in the AFFS was established with the aim to restructure research
and extension and set priority areas/commodities for research. A unified extension system is to be
introduced under this programme and it is to be administered by the district assemblies. These new
changes aim at assuring that research investments benefit local communities. The research
prioritisation will be based on investment benefit analysis, which will actually establish the areas of
research that will be most beneficial to farmers, rural communities and the country as a whole. It is
expected that research will be conducted on the basis of national priorities within each crop category
and agricultural system. Hopefully, the investment benefit analysis would help management to identify
what areas of research should be left to the private sector and what should be in the public domain.
Also the ARPCC hopes to determine what proportion of research should be funded through
competitive research grants. The competitive grants scheme will be available for both the private and
public sector. Membership of the ARPCC includes the farmers’ representative.

CURRENT SITUATION OF AGRICULTURAL EXTENSION

Institutional Setting and Performance
Agricultural extension in Ghana is mainly conducted and controlled by the Ministry of Food and
Agriculture (MOFA). Extension services in Ghana are provided free of charge to farmers by extension
workers, who are civil servants of MOFA. However the extensionist-farmer ratio is quite low (1:1500)
resulting in the inability of the extension workers to visit many needy farmers. To a large extent
therefore, their impact on agricultural development is not being felt.

To mitigate the shortfall of the Extension Service, some of the research institutes have also set up
technology transfer units within their institutes and these units are responsible for the transfer of
technology to end-users. In the forestry sector, the Forest Services Division of the Forestry
Commission takes up this role.
.

Research and Extension in 2010

Agricultural research in Ghana has always been demand driven, but under AgSSIP this is being re-
emphasised. By the year 2010 therefore, research should be able to respond more to existing
problems. To be able to do this, researchers would need to be up to date with problems on the
ground. The onus therefore is on the researcher to identify the unsolved problem areas. This means
that researchers would have to establish the originality of the research problem before they can
submit a research proposal. This implies that there will be an increasing request for information on
existing and past research projects. This can be facilitated by the use of ICTs which can easily be
done by employing a Management Information Systems (MIS) on research projects. Under the
erstwhile National Agricultural Research Project (NARP) a Management Information System (MIS)
based on ISNAR’s INFORM programme was introduced to help document existing and past research
projects. The software was a DOS based one that was very difficult to implement. An update of this
was developed by ISNAR and it is expected that the MIS will be improved upon with the new
INFORM-R software. Currently FORIG has started to update its database using the new software.
The other agricultural based institutions in the CSIR are expected to use this programme for
managing the many research projects that will be initiated under AgSSIP. It is hoped that by the year
2003, the national MIS would have been updated. This database apart from monitoring research, will
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also allow researchers to be abreast with the research outputs of their colleagues. This will certainly
lead to a demand for electronic information systems such as a national agricultural bibliographic
database. Networks will therefore be strengthened with the Ghana Agricultural Information Network
System (GAINS) network playing a leading role in the provision of information. The Forestry
Information Network (FIN) established in 1998 with the co-ordinating centre at FORIG will also be
revived to help meet the information needs of researchers in the forestry sector.

The introduction of the competitive grant system will compel researchers to consult more
bibliographic databases for up to date information in order to justify their research proposals.
Currently GAINS has created the Ghana Agricultural Research Information (GHAGRI) database but
there is a plan to populate and update the database so that it will prove to be a reliable source of
information for all.

 By the year 2010 therefore, it is expected that the following scenarios would emerge:
1. The funding structure for agricultural research would have changed. Instead of bulk transfer of
    funds from the government to institutes for work to be done, a competitive grants scheme would
    be in place. All researchers would have to bid on a competitive basis for funds, leaving the best
    proposal to win.
2. According to the Minister for Environment and Science, a national research fund is to be set up to
    support all research activities in the country, including agricultural research. It is hoped that the
    fund would be in place with its disbursement tailored towards collaborative and demand driven
    research.
3. Farmers and end users will have more say in the kind of research to be conducted.
4. There will be an increasing role for ICTs as follows:
    (i)     ICTs will be used to conduct research (typing of reports, statistical analysis, literature
            searches etc)
    (ii)    ICTs will be used in extension activities through the establishment of information centres
            and telecentres; they will facilitate collaborative research through the use of LAN’s, WAN
            and research networks due to more interdisciplinary research.
    (iii)   There will be an increase in the capacity to use ICT’s among researchers and farmers and
            to also develop knowledge based information systems.

The future will see an increasing dependence on available information resources and a demand for
new systems because researchers will increasingly have to seek for up to date information using a
variety of sources.


FARMER-TECHNOLOGY INTERFACES


Current Situation
The Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) currently operates an extension system that allows
extension staff to go round to visit farmers on their farms to identify problems and to give advice on
best practices in all areas of agriculture. It is rarely that the farmers come to extension staff with their
problems. To improve this situation, MOFA under the AgSSIP is strengthening the Department of
Agricultural Extension to provide an efficient and cost effective agricultural extension system for the
production and marketing of all farm products in the area of Crops, Livestock, Agro-forestry and
Inland Fisheries and to link farmers to researchers and to their research results.
Apart from the one-on-one visit by extension staff to farmers, MOFA and the research institutes are
using other avenues to transfer new technologies to the farmers. Researchers have tried to link up
with farmers through the introduction of more on-farm trials that allow farmers to adopt results directly
.

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Currently, there is also an increasing use of rural radio and FM stations to broadcast agricultural
programmes to farmers. Most of these programmes are in the local languages so that illiterate
farmers can be reached. Some presenters allow ‘phone-in’ by the farmers so that farmers can interact
with resource persons. This however is limited only to areas where there are telephones. The TV
stations are also broadcasting a few agricultural programmes; but the constraint here is that in many
rural areas, where the bulk of the farmers live, do not have electricity. This results in low area
coverage by the stations.




Technology Transfer and Adoption
MOFA has over the years tried to improve on the farmer-extension programmes in the country. New
initiatives and policies have been put in place. An E-Commerce project has been recently initiated
with sponsorship from IICD, which will help to make international information on markets and prices
available to the local farmers, thereby allowing them to react to the market changes and also to
negotiate as equals with the traders of their produce. The main objective of the project is to efficiently
promote Ghana's non-traditional export products in the regional and global market by improving
contact between the farmer and his markets. Through this project transactions will be done
electronically, eliminating excessive travels and also fraud in the industry through the elimination of
middlemen. The successful implementation of this project will allow the Ministry to replicate it in other
regions and among farmers. Two centres at Techiman in the Brong Ahafo region and Ga district in
the Greater Accra region have been selected. The active participation of farmers was encouraged
with the selection and training of eight farmers in the use of ICTs.

The interest shown by the farmers especially in the training is an indication that the farmer can indeed
use ICT to improve on his livelihood. Now the producers and traders spend at least two hours every
week on the computers practising what they were taught at the training. They are all very optimistic
and are awaiting their first contacts when their sites are hosted on the Internet. (Addo–Dankwa, 2000)

Another initiative to improve on information provision to farmers by MOFA is the establishment of
agricultural information centres in the districts to act as a one stop shop to provide up to date
information on new trends in agriculture.

There are 110 districts in the country and so far 5 information centres have been set up. It is expected
that the District Assemblies will take complete responsibility for these information centres. Ultimately,
they will be connected to the Agricultural Network (AGRINET) through a Wide Area Network (WAN).
These centres are to be managed by extension officers who would try to link up with the research
institutes so that they can easily transfer new technologies developed to the farmers. In the future it is
expected that the farmers will learn how to use databases that will be created by MOFA staff to meet
their information needs.
Most of the centres are to be situated near markets so that on market days MOFA staff will be able to
provide as many farmers as possible with information. Some of the research institutes are also
linking up directly with the farmers through training courses in the various areas and at open days,
fairs and exhibitions. A national agricultural fair was organised earlier this year (2002) to bring all the
stakeholders in the agricultural sector together. In addition to this, the country has since 1985 set
aside a day in the year to be celebrated as a National farmers day. Today, the 1st of December each
year has been declared a National Holiday in honour of our hardworking farmers and all the
stakeholders in the agricultural sector.




                                                                                                         5
Future Trends Implications for ICT
From the foregoing, it is clear that some farmers have seen the usefulness of research in the
improvement of their livelihoods. It is therefore expected that in the future, farmers will be more
proactive in their search for answers for the many problems in the sector and these answers will be
sought from researchers. Farmers’ representation on the ARPCC will make them more informed and
knowledgeable in agricultural issues. They will make known their varied information needs which will
hopefully be integrated into any information system that will be developed. More farmers would be
encouraged to participate in research activities and perhaps to conduct their own researches
although this might be on a very limited basis.

More educated people are going into the farming profession and into agro-based industries. The
Government in an effort to improve on the sector has declared that one agro-based industry will be
set up in each of the 10 regions of Ghana by the end of 2003. Government has therefore appealed to
scientists to come out with products that can form the basis for these industries. If this trend
continues, then by 2010, there will be a very dramatic transformation in the agricultural sector with
many agro-based industries springing up.
According to the Government’s poverty alleviation strategy, the improvement of basic infrastructure in
both urban and rural areas is a priority. In a speech to launch the National ICT Policy Committee, the
Minister of Environment and Science reiterated that if the country is to improve agricultural production
and to transform the sector into a knowledge based one, then there will be the need to develop and
implement comprehensive integrated ICT-led socio-economic development policies, strategies and
plans. To this end, Government has identified five critically interrelated areas for strategic
intervention. These are ICT Network Infrastructure, human capacity development policy, enterprise
and content and applications.

These strategic interventions by government will result in the development of more telephone and
electricity networks in the rural areas. It is therefore expected that the number of information centres
and telecentres will increase in the districts. More farmers will be exposed to the use of computers,
radios and telephones for acquiring information. There will also be increased investment in rural and
community radio stations with a corresponding increase in agricultural broadcasting. ICT equipment
and service pricing policies conducive to rural livelihood promotion may be needed as well. There
may also be an increase in the use of solar energy in the very remote areas as has been
demonstrated successfully by the Patriensa Telecentre project that uses solar energy to power its
equipment. The use of ICT’s by farmers will help to bring the market to the farmers rather than them
chasing it. Possible areas of information provision for the farmers will be on the provision of market
prices, production mechanisms; weather updates, and improved use of chemicals etc. Their
livelihoods will be improved in addition to a better social cohesion that can stem the tide of rural urban
drift.

GAINS has with financial support from the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Co-operation
(CTA) started a Question and Answer Service (QAS) with the aim of providing stakeholders in
agriculture and rural development with information services on demand through verbal, bibliographic
references, full text document and factual information. The challenge now is to get farmers and their
groups to use the service more.

The future looks bright with an increase in farmer technology interaction resulting in the enhancement
of networking initiatives among farmers with the informal sharing of information. Also there will be an
increase in farmer–researcher relationship with farmers co-operating more with researchers in the
future.




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RESEARCH-RESEARCH INTERFACE


Current Situation

The use of information and communication technology (ICT) is especially weak in the Ghanaian
NARS, including access to e-mail and the Internet. It is estimated that currently less than 30% of
research scientists in Ghana have computers on their desks and use them to some extent. Out of
nine agricultural-based institutes of the CSIR, only three have developed local area networks (LANs)
with Internet access. Even in these institutes, not all the research scientists have personal computers
to work with and many of them have to share with their colleagues and subordinates in a common
pool. The situation is such that even the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Sector Directorate
(AFFSD), which has the responsibility of coordinating agricultural research nationally, has no reliable
e-mail or Internet facility. Communicating among research scientists in the Ghanaian NARS is
therefore a problem at the moment, in spite of a research network created in 1992 under the National
Agricultural Research Project (NARP).

Avenues for publishing research findings were not a problem until in the 1980’s when research
support from Government experienced a downturn. Local journals which used to be published on a
regular basis are currently far behind schedule thereby compounding the situation leading to
frustrations and low morale among scientists. Researchers now face a lot of problems when they
want to publish scientific papers in “international” journals in developed countries. Many of the
scientists, although excellent in their trade are not prolific writers though their research output maybe
of a high quality. Those who are able to produce scientific papers and want to publish in an
“advanced” journal are often time unable to pay for the publication fees in foreign currency. Usually,
those papers that are able to find their way into the ‘advanced’ journals are the ones that are written
in collaboration with colleagues in the North.

Scientists who have access to computers use them for a variety of things including to type reports,
analyse data, search for literature and to some extent stay in touch with colleagues through e-mail.
There is room to increase the usage of computers by researchers. Before this can be done however,
the number of computers in the system will have to be increased and the skills of researchers in the
use of computers will have to be updated. Some researchers have joined International and Regional
Research Networks (FORNESSA, AFORNET, GFIS, Neem Research Network, International Network
for Bamboo Research) and international discussion groups as local networks have not yet been set
up to discuss pertinent issues and to share ideas.


New Trends and Policy Changes

To overcome the problem of low ICT use among scientists in Ghana, it has been proposed that all
scientists in the NARS should have Internet access by 2004. AgSSIP funds will be made available to
do that. This will facilitate or help improve communication within the NARS and to enhance research
and development in the country. It will also facilitate and promote effective dialogue among scientists
within the NARS as well as encourage them to exchange data with their colleagues outside the
country. To support this, a Wide Area Network (WAN) is to be set up to link up all the research
institutes. Content will be developed to cater for all the agricultural disciplines and linkages
established with other databases. The Ghana Agricultural Research Information (GHAGRI) database
developed under GAINS for instance would be updated and improved to become a credible
database.



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Through these initiatives, it is expected that interaction through local discussion groups would be
initiated. The question that we have to ask ourselves is whether the establishment of a WAN will
automatically lead to sharing of information and communication among scientists? Do they have the
required skills to do that? Are they willing and confident enough to do that against the background of
low funding, low morale to do research and to publish? These are issues that we need to take into
consideration. The issue of scientific writing is being taken seriously and CSIR-INSTI in collaboration
with CTA will organise a ‘Train-the Trainer’ workshop next year (2003) on scientific writing to give
scientists the necessary skills in writing to improve the number of published papers locally and
internationally. Already, several workshops on proposal writing have been organised for scientists in
the various institutes. In the last two years, with the support of CTA, two train-the-trainer courses on
‘proposal writing’ and ‘biometric analyses have been organised by CSIR-INSTI aimed at re-
positioning scientists to attract the necessary funding to boost their morale. What about the problem
of access to computers? How are they to be resolved? Another issue that needs to be taken into
consideration is the avenue for publishing scientific findings. Scientists may want to publish in
“advanced” journals but many are unable to afford the high costs leading to a sense of inadequacy
and frustration among them. The Ghana Journal of Agricultural Science and the Ghana Journal
of Science, which should have been the avenues for Ghanaian scientists to communicate among
themselves is irregular discouraging scientists from sending their papers there for publication. FORIG
tried to solve this problem by publishing its own journal (Ghana Journal of Forestry) through
financial contributions by scientists. So far several papers from colleagues outside Ghana have also
been published in addition to those from scientists locally. Other journals are the Journal of
Agricultural and Food Science published by the Crops Research Institute and the Ghana Journal
of Horticulture published by the Ghana Institution of Horticulturists. Many of the papers are sent out
of the institutes for peer review before they are published. In terms of grading of journals where do
these institutional journals stand? How sustainable these journals are going to be in the long term is
an issue that needs to be discussed. Can these journals be published electronically? Who will
support that?

Will it be out of place for the AgSSIP Secretariat at the CSIR to take up the responsibility of publishing
research findings? What about encouraging the publication of electronic versions of the journals?
What about encouraging discussion groups in the various commodities? Through this, stronger
networking will be encouraged among scientists both locally and internationally.

Scientists’ participation at local and international conferences needs to be improved. To address this
situation, AgSSIP has set aside over $400,000 to enable scientists to attend such events. It is hoped
that the funds set aside will be made available for this purpose.


Future Expectations

From the foregoing, it is evident that the future has a lot in stores for scientists in Ghana. With more
training in proposal and scientific writing skills, it is expected that scientists would be writing and
publishing more in local or international journals. A way of sustaining the many journals that are being
published would have to be addressed by then. By 2010, the AgSSIP project would have ended but it
would have successfully sponsored the procurement of computers and the establishment of a WAN
with Internet access through which scientists would be able to communicate with their colleagues. It is
expected that discussion lists would be in operation engaging scientists in useful scientific
discussions. Provided that the money set aside for conferences and further training is made available,
it is expected that many more scientists would be participating in local and international conferences.
Collaboration among scientists through interdisciplinary research would be expected to increase as
well.



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                                               References

1.     Addo-Dankwa (2000) Project description of the E-Commerce project of the Ministry of Food
       and Agriculture: http://www.mofa.gov.gh/.
2.     Government of Ghana, (2002): Speech read by the Minister for Works and Housing at a
       symposium organised by the Research Staff Association of the CSIR on the occasion of the
       Day of Scientific Renaissance for Africa, 5th July 2002.
3.     Owusu-Adjapong (2002) Developing the Ghana Integrated ICT-led Socio-Economic
       Development Policy and Plan, Statement by the Minister of Communication and Technology;
       Press Conference to launch the National ICT Policy and Plan Development Committee.
4.     Pardey, P.; Roseboom, J. and Beintema, N. (1995) Agricultural Research in Africa: Three
       Decades of Development, ISNAR Briefing Paper 1995, Revised edition 1996.
5.     Roseboom, J. and Pardey, P. (1994) Statistical brief on the National Agricultural Research
       System of Ghana, ISNAR Statistical Brief No 8, ISNAR, 1994.



                                         ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
We wish to acknowledge with many thanks the kind support of IICD and ISNAR for allowing us to be
a part of this project through the participation of the discussion and the writing of this paper. The kind
assistance, suggestions and support of Prof J. C. Norman, Mr J. A. Villars, Dr J. R. Cobbinah and Dr
Atse Yapi of FAO are acknowledged with many thanks.




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