Pollinators — such as bees, butterflies and birds — are essential for agricultural production. However, natural pollination can also fail or be insufficient, which can lead to lower yields and poorer quality. This means alternative solutions are needed. Hand pollination, in which pollen is applied manually or mechanically to the flower, can supplement or replace pollination by animals. Researchers now present the first systematic review of hand pollination of food crops. They show that hand pollination is used worldwide on 20 crops, including economically important plants such as apple, oil palm and cocoa.