Barley in Detail

Barley promotes food and feed security by increasing animal and crop output per unit area and providing food, feed, forage, and malt. It is the ultimate multipurpose crop in the Middle East and North Africa’s drylands, with 3.3 million hectares planted primarily in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.

Barley is the sole and often the last choice for many traditional subsistence farmers to feed their cattle, especially during dry years. Even when conditions are ideal, turning a profit on a product is difficult. By the end of the century, climate change is anticipated to cut rainfall by up to 50 percent and raise temperatures by up to 4 degrees Celsius in the region. As a result, new technologies must be developed and deployed to boost production per unit area in the face of climate change. The ICARDA Global Barley Breeding program has developed new barley genotypes, producing at least 10 percent more grain and straw under severe drought conditions than conventional varieties. New wild relative-derived genotypes with consistently higher beta-glucan content for increased nutritional value have also been developed, with new genotypes producing 30 percent more forage production than conventional varieties.

A total of 180 new elite barley genotypes have been distributed to 36 collaborators in 19 countries upon demand. The program receives funds from the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock, the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the Crop Diversity Trust, and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.   

Significant  2021  developments in our work on barley were:

Two special nurseries targeting feed barley were shared with collaborators in United Arab Emirates in 2021. The first consisted of 100 new elite genotypes to be tested as an observation nursery under local conditions. The best lines from this will be selected and promoted for further testing. The second nursery consisted of 1 kilogram of seven elite feed genotypes and has been tested in farmer fields.   

2021 also saw two new special nurseries, one targeting food and fodder barley and another one targeting malt and fodder barley, shared with barley breeders from the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research. The 300 elite lines in these nurseries were tested in the field and more than 100 were promoted to be tested at larger scale. 

2021 saw the first shared trial of the Maghreb-ICARDA Barley Initiative, a joint venture between ICARDA’s barley breeding programs in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya to assemble, share, and test one common yield trial representing a shared product profile. With the support of the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock, 24 new ICARDA elite lines from the Feed for Arid and Semi-Arid Areas Mega Product Linetargeting the environmental and socioeconomic conditions as well as the local farmers’ needs of the arid areas of the Maghrebwere tested in nine locations in Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. The results showed superior yield and straw production in the new tested lines compared to the commercial checks. Breeders in the target countries have already started promoting the best lines to the National Variety Trials program. 

Due to the low productivity of major cool-season cereals and food legumes, smallholder farmers in Ethiopia are increasingly abandoning traditional practices of high crop diversity in favor of growing more bread wheat. Increased wheat monocropping lowers soil fertility, increases the risk of disease epidemics, and reduces the dietary diversity of farmers. ICARDA, in partnership with the Africa RISING project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development, has diversified the wheat-based system in four intervention zones, releasing wheat, barley, and food legume varieties. Once validated, the seeds of these farmer-selected cultivars have been produced through community seed production schemes involving individual farmers and seed producing unions. In the 2020/2021 cropping season, 161 male and female farmers and seed growers in nine districts produced 349 tons of wheat, barley and faba bean seeds.    

The certified seeds will be exchanged and sold to other farmers and will contribute to alleviating seed shortages in the intervention areas. 


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