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Farmers as citizen scientists

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

Judging the ear by its spike

The low cost and simple nature of new kinds of trials means that farms previously bypassed by participatory research for any reason – such as social conflict or remoteness – can contribute to researching the future of their planting diversity. At the same time, high-tech approaches allow farmers to show breeders where to look for the genes that make a variety more desirable.


Find out more

Using technology to crowdsource science

Mobile phones

Part of the crowdsourcing approach in Ethiopia includes extension workers using mobile phones to communicate farmers' feedback to scientists. 


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.

BBC Radio 4 Farming Today

Dr. Carlo Fadda reports from the field in Ethiopia on the day-to-day challenges facing farmers and how using durum wheat diversity can help them adapt their farming systems to climate change.   This report is the first item on BBC Radio 4's Farming Today Programme.

Listen here

Training videos

An example of one of the seven training videos on Tricot methodology and ClimMob

View other related videos here

From citizen scientists to published authors

Researchers in Italy and Ethiopia discuss the results in a scientific paper that would have been impossible without the farmer communities acting as co-authors.
Read the blog: Ethiopian farmer communities – from citizen scientists to published authors

Collecting weather data using iButtons - a technical guide

Bioversity scientists are using improved and affordable iButton sensors to measure local weather in farmers' fields under the Seeds for Needs Initiative. Learn how to use them in Bioversity's technical manual: Collecting Weather Data in the Field with High Spatial and Temporal Resolution Using iButtons.

The manual is available in English and Spanish.

Participatory research is a serious game

In Honduras, scientists have been encouraging farmers to play a local card game adapted to help them decided priorities when it comes to preferred traits for plant breeding.  

Read the blog