Food security and livelihoods for a majority of Ethiopians depends on smallholder farming, and barley is an important crop grown by over 4 million smallholder farmers for multiple uses as food, feed and as a cash crop for an emerging malting and brewing industry. However, Ethiopian barley varieties achieve low yields and are susceptible to losses from lodging, pests, and diseases.
In the context of the International Barley Hub initiative promoted by the James Hutton Institute and the University of Dundee, Girma Fana, Ethiopia's National Barley Research Program Coordinator, has started a PhD in Dundee with the objective of improving on the current situation. He aims to characterise the genetic diversity within Ethiopian barley using modern genetic tools, to develop modernised breeding tools for use in-country and improve sustainable crop production and new varietal development in the East African nation.
Ethiopia is a centre of barley domestication and diversity, and barley has an important place in African dryland agriculture in general, resiliently producing stable yields under extreme temperature, drought, and salinity conditions, characteristics that will be increasingly important for food security under conditions of climate change.
Research organisations in Ethiopia are beginning to provide access to new varieties with increased yield, and brewers have also introduced a few European semi-dwarf varieties for the malting barley sector.
These emerging efforts could be greatly assisted by collaborations with researchers in Dundee to understand and characterise relevant traits in Ethiopian varieties, to identify the genetic diversity in Ethiopian barley, and to develop molecular markers for future breeding efforts.
Ethiopia is also the focus of work on a Royal Society Challenge grant to Professor Claire Halpin (University of Dundee), which aims to understand barley straw traits to improve sustainability and crop yields. Traditional Ethiopian barley varieties are tall and susceptible to lodging, causing significant yield losses. By combining datasets on stem strength and field lodging with genetic information on hundreds of barley cultivars, the research aims to identify genes and markers for lodging resistance that can be used in barley breeding programmes.
The International Barley Hub is an initiative of the James Hutton Institute and the University of Dundee which seeks to create a unique, integrated, open platform for the translation of barley research into economic, social, environmental and commercial impacts for the breeding, farming, malting, brewing, feed, food, health and related industries, and was recently awarded funding through the Tay Cities Deal. For more information on the Hub, visit its project page.