(This video is part of a series for this year’s Wikimedia Foundation fundraiser. You can support Wikipedia and free knowledge by contributing at donate.wikimedia.org. You can also view this video on YouTube.)
Mei Jiun Kwek uploaded her first image to Wikimedia Commons while working as a scientific assistant at Crops for the Future (CFF), an international partnership organizations based in Malaysia. Since that fateful first picture, Kwek has contributed numerous images to Commons on behalf of CFF and sometimes her own work. “I contribute images on crop species, mainly on neglected and underutilized crops,” said Kwek.
Although her family doesn’t have an agricultural background, Kwek’s love of botany developed “during my bachelor and my master’s time, [when] I spent a lot of my time working in the forest to collect plant specimens,” she explained. Botany provides Kwek with a deeper understanding regarding the diversity of nature that surrounds her native Borneo. “I might think that these trees are all the same, they are green, they are trees, they don’t have a name, but actually they do.”
Kwek’s role at CFF is to document publications, “not only working with Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons,” but also to assist with the dissemination of the organization’s scientific publications. CFF has over 250 completed and ongoing development projects aimed at enhancing productivity and consumption of underutilized and neglected food crops for better health and nutrition of local communities, Kwek said. Researchers like her recognize the need for their research to be freely accessible to everyone.
“We do not want the publications to be sitting on a shelf or only disseminate a few physical copies to our partners only. We want more readers to access the books,” explained Kwek.
Her user page gallery has now more than 50 images on neglected and underutilized crops and some of them are used in the related Wikipedia articles. “We found it better for us to put them in a public repository where everyone can see, everyone can use, and it is for educational purposes. That’s why we go to Wikimedia Commons.”
She explained that CFF no longer uploads images directly to the organization’s blog. “We link to Wikimedia Commons and we don’t upload photos to the website server, we make uploads to Wikimedia Commons, and then we use it on our website.”
She has also tried to convince researchers from similar organizations to do the same; however, she has been met with resistance. “They are just not excited to do that because they prefer to develop their own database, they prefer to upload the picture to their own organizations’ websites. They prefer to publish their knowledge in physical books, rather than contribute that idea to Wikipedia. Actually, I believe in the agriculture community or in the researcher community, they are not aware of the potential with working in Wikipedia,” she said.
Kwek argued it is the responsibility of agriculture researchers to translate their research into practice for the general public. “When you look into the crop article, you can find that you have basic information on the plant morphology characteristics, you know the name of the plants, you have information on the distribution, and on the taxonomic sites. But you don’t have information on the breeding of the plants. We have a lack of information on the culinary use, the nutritional use, and the post-harvest handling of all these plant species.”
According to Kwek, the vast potential of utilizing Wikipedia and its sister projects to improve the understanding and awareness of agricultural context, especially for neglected and underutilized crops, is still unrealized. “This is where the scientists or where the agriculture researchers can contribute their knowledge from that area,” she said.
Though she has already added significantly to free knowledge, Kwek said she is not finished. “There is still a lot of opportunity for me to do work in Wikimedia Commons. I can upload a lot more photos, images, and create more pages, more categories, especially on underutilized crop species.”
Profile by Alice Roberts, Communications Intern
Interview by Victor Grigas, Visual Storyteller