Naked barley minimizes grain loss and maximizes productivity

ICARDA's barley team at the Marchouch Research Station in Morocco

With funding from the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals, two husk-less food barley cultivars developed from germplasm supplied by ICARDA were released in Morocco in 2016. The varieties, dubbed 'naked barley,' maximize the amount of product available for local consumption and distribution.

Barley is an integral part of Morocco’s economy, with more than two million ha sown annually. The nation is responsible for most of the worldwide human consumption of the grain, with an average of 28 kg consumed per inhabitant every year. Due to a very dry season in 2016, however, Moroccan barley production fell to 700,000 tons, raising prices substantially.

A hardy cereal that can grow in harsh environments, barley requires little labor, and promotes generally stable yields. It provides food, forage and livestock feed for the region, and is a regional cultural touchpoint — its harvesting and use date back thousands of years in Africa and the Middle East.

Increasing yields, disease resistance and food security

ICARDA works with its partner Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) to support the ‘Green Morocco Plan.’ A multi-billion dollar country-wide initiative, Green Morocco aims to restructure the agricultural sector to stand as a bulwark against climate change by creating more resilient crops, implementing sustainable agricultural methods and technologies, and providing effective marketing strategies for its harvests.

ICARDA’s role is to provide improved germplasm to create varieties that have a higher grain yield with higher nutritional content (fiber, zinc, iron and beta glucan). The two new varieties — CHIFAA (INRA 1791) and ASSIYA (INRA1793) — produce naked grains. That is, the varieties are essentially husk-less, thus eliminating the need to pearl the husks mechanically. Additionally, they are resistant to net blotch, powdery mildew, and lodging, wherein plants are bent low at the stem, making them difficult to harvest and potentially causing yield losses.

Only 1% of the available certified seeds are used however, and the projections aim to increase use to 22% by 2020.