AGROVOC (a portmanteau of agriculture and vocabulary) is a multilingual controlled vocabulary covering all areas of interest to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), including food, nutrition, agriculture, fisheries, forestry and the environment. The vocabulary consists of over 32,000 concepts with up to 40,000 terms in 23 languages: Arabic, Chinese, Czech, English, French, German, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lao, Malay, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Telugu, Thai, Turkish and Ukrainian. It is a collaborative effort, edited by a community of experts and coordinated by FAO.
AGROVOC was first published at the beginning of the 1980s by FAO in English, Spanish and French to serve as a controlled vocabulary to index publications in agricultural science and technology, especially for AGRIS.
In the 1990s, AGROVOC abandoned paper printing and went digital with data storage handled by a relational database. In 2004, preliminary experiments with expressing AGROVOC into the Web Ontology Language(OWL) took place. At the same time a web based editing tool was developed, then called WorkBench, nowadays VocBench. In 2009 AGROVOC became an SKOS resource.
Today, AGROVOC is available in 23 languages as an SKOS-XL concept scheme and published as a Linked Open Data (LOD) set aligned to 16 other data sets related to agriculture.
AGROVOC is used by researchers, librarians and information managers for indexing, retrieving and organizing data in agricultural information systems and web pages. Within the context of the Semantic Web also new users are emerging, like software developers and ontology builders.
AGROVOC is accessible in various ways:
- Online: Search  and browse AGROVOC on the Agricultural Information Management Standards (AIMS) website.
- Download: RDF-SKOS (AGROVOC only or AGROVOC LOD).
- Live: SPARQL endpoint  and the AGROVOC Web services.
The AGROVOC team, located at FAO Headquarter, coordinates the editorial activities related to the maintenance of AGROVOC. The actual maintenance is carried out by a community of editors and institutions for each of the 23 language versions.
The tool used by the community to edit and maintain AGROVOC is Vocbench, which was designed to meet the needs of the Semantic Web and linked data environments. VocBench provides tools and functionalities that facilitate both collaborative editing and multilingual terminology. It also includes administration and group management features that permit flexible roles for maintenance, validation and quality assurance.
FAO also facilitates the technical maintenance of AGROVOC, including its publication as a LOD resource. Technical support is provided by the University of Tor Vergata (Rome, Italy) which leads the technical development of VocBench. The technical infrastructure for the online publication of AGROVOC is hosted by MIMOS Berhad (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia).
All 32,000+ concepts of the AGROVOC thesaurus are hierarchically organized under 25 top concepts. AGROVOC top concepts are very general and high level concepts, like “activities”, “organisms”, “locations”, “products”, “organism” etc. More than half of the total number of concepts (20,000+) fall under the top concept “organism”, which confirms how AGROVOC is largely oriented towards the agricultural sector.
AGROVOC is an RDF/SKOS-XL concept scheme, meaning the conceptual and terminological level are separated. The basic notions for such a concept scheme are: concepts, their labels and relations.
Concepts are anything we want to represent or “talk about” in our domain. Concepts are represented by terms. A concept could also be considered as the set of all terms used to express it in various languages. In SKOS, concepts are formalized as skos:Concept, identified by dereferenceable URIs (= URL). For example, the AGROVOC concept with URI http://aims.fao.org/aos/agrovoc/c_12332 is for maize.
Terms are the actual terms used to name a concept. For example maize, maïs, 玉米, ข้าวโพด are all terms used to refer to the same concept in English, French, Chinese and Hindi respectively.
AGROVOC terms are expressed by means of the SKOS extension for labels, SKOS-XL. The predicates used are: skosxl:prefLabel, used for preferred terms (“descriptors” in thesaurus terminology), and skosxl:altLabel, used for non- preferred terms.
In SKOS, hierarchical relations between concepts are expressed by the predicates skos:broader, skos:narrower. They correspond to the classical thesaurus relations broader/narrower (BT/NT).
Non-hierarchical relations express a notion of “relatedness” between concepts. AGROVOC uses the SKOS relation skos:related (corresponding to the classical thesaurus RT), and a specific vocabulary of relations called Agrontology.
AGROVOC also allows for relations between labels (i.e. terms), thanks to the SKOS-XL extension to SKOS.
AGROVOC is available as a linked data set and is aligned (linked) with 16 vocabularies related to agriculture (see table down below). The linked data version of AGROVOC is exposed as RDF and HTML, through a content-negotiation mechanism. It is also exposed through a SPARQL endpoint.
The advantage of having a thesaurus like AGROVOC published as LOD is that once thesauri are linked, the resources they index are linked as well. A good example is AGRIS, a mash-up web application that links the AGRIS bibliographic repository (indexed with AGROVOC) to related web resources (indexed with vocabularies linked to AGROVOC).
|Resource||Topics||Linked concpets||Languages||Linked data||Type of link|
|FAO Biotechnology Glossary||Biotechnologies||810||EN, ES, FR, +3 more||Yes||skos:closeMatch|
|Chinese Agriculture Thesaurus (CAT)||Agriculture||Yes||skos:closeMatch|
|EUROVOC||General EU||1,297||EN, ES, FR + 21 more||Yes||skos:exactMatch|
|GEMET||Environment||1,191||EN, ES, FR + 30 more||Yes||skos:exactMatch|
|Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH)||General||1,093||EN||Yes||skos:exactMatch|
|RAMEAU Répertoire d'autorité-matière encyclopedique et alphabetique unifie||General||686||FR||Yes||skos:exactMatch|
|STW - Thesaurus for Economics||Economy||1,136||EN, DE||Yes||skos:exactMatch|
|TheSoz - Thesaurus for the Social Sciences||Social sciences||846||EN,DE||Yes||skos:exactMatch|
|Geopolical Ontology||Geopolitical entities||253||AR, CH, EN, ES, FR, RU||Yes||skos:exactMatch|
|Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC)||General||409||EN, ES, FR + 8 more||Yes||skos:exactMatch|
|DBpedia||General||10,989||EN, ES, FR + 8 more||Yes||skos:exactMatch
skos:closeMatch skos:broadMatch skos:narrowMatch
|GeoNames||Geographical entities||212||EN, ES, FR + 63 more||Yes||skos:exactMatch|
Copyright and license
The copyright for the AGROVOC thesaurus content in English, French, Russian and Spanish stays with FAO and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. For any other language, the copyright rests with the institution responsible for its production.
- Agricultural Information Management Standards
- Food and Agriculture Organization
- Geopolitical ontology