Skip to main content



Rapid climatic and socio-economic changes challenge current agricultural R&D capacity. The necessary quantum leap in knowledge generation should build on the innovation capacity of farmers themselves. A novel citizen science methodology, triadic comparisons of technologies or tricot, was implemented in pilot studies in India, East Africa, and Central America. The methodology involves distributing a pool of agricultural technologies in different combinations of three to individual farmers who observe these technologies under farm conditions and compare their performance. Since the combinations of three technologies overlap, statistical methods can piece together the overall performance ranking of the complete pool of technologies. The tricot approach affords wide scaling, as the distribution of trial packages and instruction sessions is relatively easy to execute, farmers do not need to be organized in collaborative groups, and feedback is easy to collect, even by phone. The tricot approach provides interpretable, meaningful results and was widely accepted by farmers. The methodology underwent improvement in data input formats. A number of methodological issues remain: integrating environmental analysis, capturing gender-specific differences, stimulating farmers' motivation, and supporting implementation with an integrated digital platform. Future studies should apply the tricot approach to a wider range of technologies, quantify its potential contribution to climate adaptation, and embed the approach in appropriate institutions and business models, empowering participants and democratizing science.

Corresponding author
‡‡‡‡‡Corresponding author. Email:
Hide All
Atlin, G. A. R. Y., Paris, T. and Courtois, B. (2002). Sources of variation in participatory varietal selection trials with rainfed rice: implications for the design of mother-baby trial networks. In Quantitative Analysis of Data from Participatory Methods in Plant Breeding, 3642 (Eds Bellon, M. R. and Reeves, J.). Mexico, DF: CIMMYT.
Bentley, J. W. (1989). What farmers don't know can't help them: the strengths and weaknesses of indigenous technical knowledge in Honduras. Agriculture and Human Values 6 (3):2531.
Beza, E., Steinke, J., Van Etten, J., Reidsma, P., Fadda, C. Mittra, S., Mathur, P. and Kooistra, L. (2016). What are the prospects for large-N citizen science in agriculture? Evidence from three continents on motivation and mobile telephone use of resource-poor farmers participating in “tricot” crop research trials. PLoS ONE (under review).
Boster, J. S. (1985). Selection for perceptual distinctiveness: Evidence from Aguaruna cultivars of Manihot esculenta. Economic Botany 39 (3):310325.
Boster, J. S. (1986). Exchange of varieties and information between Aguaruna manioc cultivators. American Anthropologist 88 (2):428436.
Bradley, R. A. and Terry, M. E. (1952). Rank Analysis of Incomplete Block Designs. I. The Method of Paired Comparisons. Biometrika 39 (3/4):324345.
Ceccarelli, S., Guimarães, E. P. and Weltzien, E. (Eds.) (2009). Plant Breeding and Farmer Participation. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization.
Coe, R. (2002). Analyzing ranking and rating data from participatory on-farm trials. Quantitative Analysis of Data from Participatory Methods in Plant Breeding, 4465 (Eds Bellon, M. R. and Reeves, J.). Mexico, DF: CIMMYT.
Cooke, B. and Kothari, U. (2001). Participation: The New Tyranny? London and New York: Zed Books.
Deterding, S. (2015). The lens of intrinsic skill atoms: A method for Gameful design. Human-Computer Interactions 30 (3–4):294335.
Dickinson, J. L. and Bonney, R. (Eds.). (2012). Citizen Science. Public Participation in Environmental Research. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.
Eisenmann, T., Parker, G. and Van Alstyne, M. W. (2006). Strategies for two-sided markets. Harvard Business Review 84 (10): 92.
Funk, C. C., Peterson, P. J., Landsfeld, M. F., Pedreros, D. H., Verdin, J. P., Rowland, J. D., Romero, B. E., Husak, G. J., Michaelsen, J. C. and Verdin, A. P. (2014). A quasi-global precipitation time series for drought monitoring: U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 832, 4 p.,
Hammond, J., Fraval, S., van Etten, J., Suchini, J. G., Mercado, L., Pagella, T., Frelat, R., Lannerstad, M., Douxchamps, S., Teufel, N., Valbuena, D. and van Wijk, M. T. (2016). The rural household multi-indicator survey (RHoMIS) for rapid characterisation of households to inform climate smart agriculture interventions: description and applications in East Africa and central America. Agricultural Systems. Early Online. DOI: 10.1016/j.agsy.2016.05.003
Hand, E. (2010) Citizen science: people power. Nature 466:685687.
Hyman, G., Hodson, D. and Jones, P. (2013). Spatial analysis to support geographic targeting of genotypes to environments. Frontiers in Physiology 4:40.
Johnson, A. (1972). Individuality and experimentation in traditional agriculture. Human Ecology 1 (2):149159.
Joshi, K. D., Subedi, M., Rana, R. B., Kadayat, K. B. and Sthapit, B. R. (1997). Enhancing on-farm varietal diversity through participatory varietal selection: A case study for chaite rice in Nepal. Experimental Agriculture 33 (3):335344.
Joshi, K. D. and Witcombe, J. R. (2002). Participatory varietal selection in rice in Nepal in favourable agricultural environments – a comparison of two methods assessed by varietal adoption. Euphytica 127 (3):445458.
Lobell, D., Banziger, M., Magorokosho, C., Vivek, B. (2011). Nonlinear heat effects on African maize as evidenced by historical yield trials. Nature Climate Change 1 (1):4245.
Martin, G. J. (2004). Ethnobotany. A Methods Manual. London: Earthscan.
Misiko, M. (2013). Dilemma in participatory selection of varieties. Agricultural Systems 139:3542.
Mittra, S., van Etten, J. and Tito, T. (2013). Collecting Weather Data in the Field with High Spatial and Temporal Resolution Using iButtons. Rome: Bioversity International.
Mwongera, C., Boyard-Micheau, J., Baron, C. and Leclerc, C. (2014). Social process of adaptation to environmental changes: How eastern African societies intervene between crops and climate. Weather, Climate, and Society 6 (3):341353.
Porter, J. R., Xie, L., Challinor, A. J., Cochrane, K., Howden, S. M., Iqbal, M. M., Lobell, D. B. and Travasso, M. I. (2014). Food security and food production systems. In Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 485–533 (Eds Field, C. B., Barros, V. R., Dokken, D. J., Mach, K. J., Mastrandrea, M. D., Bilir, T. E., Chatterjee, M., Ebi, K. L., Estrada, Y. O., Genova, R. C., Girma, B., Kissel, E. S., Levy, A. N., MacCracken, S., Mastrandrea, P. R., and White, L. L.). Cambridge, UK and New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
R Development Core Team. (2015). R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria.
Richards, P. (1985). Farmers also experiment: A neglected intellectual resource in African science. Discovery and Innovation 1:1925.
Richards, P. (2007). How does participation work? Deliberation and performance in African food security. IDS Bulletin 38 (5):2135.
Romney, A. K., Weller, S. C. and Batchelder, W. H. (1986). Culture as consensus: a theory of culture and informant accuracy. American Anthropologist 88 (2):313338.
Snapp, S. (2002). Quantifying farmer evaluation of technologies: The mother and baby trial design. Quantitative Analysis of Data from Participatory Methods in Plant Breeding, 4465 (Eds Bellon, M. R. and Reeves, J.). Mexico, DF: CIMMYT.
Steinke, J. (2015). Citizen science with resource-poor farmers as a new approach to climate adaption and food security: Evidence from Honduras. MSc thesis, Humboldt Universität.
Steinke, J., Van Etten, J. and Mejía Zelan, P. (2016). “Wisdom of Crowds” in agricultural research: Observation accuracy in a farmer citizen science methodology. Agronomy for Sustainable Development (under review).
Sumberg, J. and Okali, C. (1997). Farmers' Experiments: Creating Local Knowledge. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers Inc.
Surowiecki, J. (2005). The Wisdom of Crowds. New York, NY: Anchor Books.
Turner, H. and Firth, D. (2012). Bradley-terry models in R: the bradleyterry2 package. Journal of Statistical Software 48 (9):121.
Van Duijvendijk, K. (2015). Feasibility of a low-cost weather sensor network for agricultural purposes: a preliminary assessment. MSc thesis, Lund University.
Van Eeuwijk, F. A. (1992). Interpreting genotype-by-environment interaction using redundancy analysis. Theoretical and Applied Genetics 85 (1):89100.
Van Etten, J. (2006). Changes in farmers' knowledge of maize diversity in highland Guatemala, 1927/37-2004. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2 (1):1.
Van Etten, J. (2011). Crowdsourcing crop improvement in Sub‐Saharan Africa: A proposal for a scalable and inclusive approach to food security. IDS Bulletin 42 (4):102110.
Voltas, J., Lopez-Corcoles, H. and Borras, G. (2005). Use of biplot analysis and factorial regression for the investigation of superior genotypes in multi-environment trials. European Journal of Agronomy 22 (3):309324.
Weber, E. (1834).“De Tactu” Translated by Ross, H. E. and Murray, D. J. (1996) Weber, E. H. on the Tactile Senses. Erlbaum, UK: Francis & Taylor.
Witcombe, J. R., Joshi, K. D., Gyawali, S., Musa, A. M., Johansen, C., Virk, D. S. and Sthapit, B. R. (2005). Participatory plant breeding is better described as highly client-oriented plant breeding. I. Four indicators of client-orientation in plant breeding. Experimental Agriculture 41 (03):299319.
Xu, Y. (2016). Envirotyping for deciphering environmental impacts on crop plants. Theoretical and Applied Genetics 129 (4):653673.
Zimmerer, K. S. (1991). Managing diversity in potato and maize fields of the Peruvian Andes. Journal of Ethnobiology 11 (1):2349.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Experimental Agriculture
  • ISSN: 0014-4797
  • EISSN: 1469-4441
  • URL: /core/journals/experimental-agriculture
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 42
Total number of PDF views: 344 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1036 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 21st December 2016 - 19th March 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.