Bioversity International: research for development in agricultural and tree biodiversity



Farmers as citizen scientists

Farmers in Bihar, India. Credit: Bioversity International/C. Zanzanaini
Farmers in Bihar, India. Credit: Bioversity International/C. Zanzanaini

As of 2017, around 45000 farmers around the world are taking on the role of citizen scientists in crowdsourcing trials through our Seeds for Needs Initiative:  

  • In Central America, our crowdsourcing approach is estimated to be up to 80% more cost-effective than conventional participatory varietal selection.

  • In India alone, partnerships and word-of-mouth helped increase participation from 30 to 15,000 farmers in just three years.

  • As a result of crowdsourcing trials, in 2017, the Ethiopian government approved two new wheat varieties for distribution as officially approved seeds.

"Farmers act as local scientists ... testing, observing, comparing different varieties, trying new farming techniques, and experimenting with different crop rotations to see what works for them – in terms of yield and also ... resilience, nutrition, taste and resistance to pests and diseases."  
Ann Tutwiler, Director General, Bioversity International's blog: From the fields of Bihar, India.

Crowdsourcing with ClimMob – How it works

Statistical approaches:

Each farmer receives a package of three different varieties. The farmer has to note which of the three is best and which worst on a list of characteristics that they develop together with the researchers. The varieties are drawn from a pool of several varieties, so while one farmer receives A, B and C, another receives A, B and D and so on.

Even though no farmer compared A and D directly, statistical methods can reveal whether A or D is better. Additional variables, such as whether a farmer has access to irrigation, or the altitude of the plot, can also be examined to see whether they affect the performance of the varieties.

An additional benefit is that the varieties are grown in the farmers' fields rather than a trial plot, allowing a greater number of farmers to take part, and to capture other data such as performance at different altitudes or in varying climatic conditions.

"We adapt our statistics to work with what the farmers are able to observe, rather than the other way round," Jacob van Etten, Bioversity International scientist who developed ClimMob with colleagues.

The online platform  and mobile app are up and running for anyone to use, with a full set of explanatory videos (in English and Spanish) showing how to use it. 

Looking ahead
, ClimMob can be used to gather big data on farmers' varietal preferences, and to share that information with relevant actors to create a 2-sided business platform allowing for small quantities of a diverse selection of planting materials to be marketed to targeted consumers.

Find out more:
ClimMob – a software for crowdsourcing climate-smart agriculture

Using technology to crowdsource science

Mobile phones

Farmer with his phone in Gere Gera, Ethiopia. Part of the crowdsourcing approach here includes extension workers using mobile phones to communicate farmers' feedback to scientists.  Credit: Bioversity International/J.van de Gevel
Credit: Bioversity International/J.van de Geve

Part of the crowdsourcing approach in Ethiopia includes extension workers using mobile phones to communicate farmers' feedback to scientists.  Above, a farmer receives his phone as part of the project.


There are just a few weather stations in the entire state of Bihar, so farmers in these villages have a hard time tracking changing trends. Bioversity International has helped install US$70 ‘climate buttons’ in each of these villages that allow scientists to collect data about temperature and humidity to share with farmers, information that they would not otherwise be able to access. This is very simple, very cost-effective technology that we have been able to bring into this region. Credit: Bioversity International/J.V.Etten
Credit: Bioversity International/J.V.Etten

Bioversity International has helped install ‘climate buttons’ in trial plots in Bihar, India. This simple, low-cost technology, allows scientists to collect data to share with farmers about temperature and humidity.

Bioversity International and CGIAR

This research is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) which is carried out with support from CGIAR Fund Donors and through bilateral funding agreements.  For details please visit