The Real-Life Version of 'FarmVille'

Play this new game, and help build a map of global agriculture.

Geo-Wiki cropland capture

Definitely cropland. (Photo: Arenamontanus/Flickr)

Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

If the pixelated livestock and cartoon crops of "FarmVille" never captured your imagination, we have a new game for you. It may be less flashy, but "Cropland Capture" has something going for it that your Facebook farm could never claim: Your playing has a real impact on global agriculture.

Here’s how the game, a new project from Geo-Wiki, works: Satellite images of a piece of land are shown on the screen, and the player is asked if any crops are being grown in the frame. Answering “yes,” “no,” or “maybe” helps further develop an up-to-date database of where food is grown around the world. Clicking through satellite images, I saw green expanses from Australia, Russia, and Brazil, some lined with the telltale rows of farming, others obviously wild. With enough users looking at enough images, the developers hope to paint an accurate picture of where around the globe people are farming.

In just one week, players combed more than 65,000 square kilometers of land. Now, there's potentially 41.4 million square kilometers of arable land in the world—but "Cropland Capture" just started! 

Having an accurate sense of where food is grown can help researchers address issues such as chronic low yields in certain parts of Africa. Geo-Wiki’s Steffen Fritz tells NPR that more food could be produced in these underfed parts of the world, but they don’t know exactly where the farming is being done.

"So because we don't know where the cropland is, we don't know where the best investments could be made in terms of increasing production. So the first step is a very good cropland map," Fritz says.

You can play "Cropland Capture" on the Geo-Wiki website, or download the smartphone app, to help with the mapping. Not only will you be helping identify farmland, but you can win something too—after the 25-week tournament closes, top-score holders will be awarded prizes.

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