Focus on barley as a climate change crop – world-renowned scientists discuss solutions to tackle barley leaf diseases

April 06, 2017

Beirut – The Second International Workshop on Barley Leaf Diseases organized by the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and partners, opened today in Rabat, Morocco. The event is part of ICARDA’s efforts to raise the productivity of barley – a crucial dryland crop which thrives under the most marginal ecosystems and sustains rural communities facing drought, land degradation, and the worsening impacts of climate change.

The three-day-workshop brings together more than 60 delegates from 20 countries, alongside agricultural research organizations, universities, students, scientists, breeders and policy makers. Topics include genetics, evaluation and breeding for resistance to barley leaf diseases, epidemiology and integrated disease management, and molecular science-specific topics linked to host-pathogen interactions.

The chief guests of the workshop were Prof. Mohammed Badraoui, ICARDA Board of Trustees vice-chair and Director General of National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), Dr. Shoba Sivasankar, Director of CGIAR Research Program on grain legumes and Prof. Brian Steffenson, Chairman of the International Organizing Committee of the barley leaf diseases workshop series and plant pathologist from University of Minnesota, USA.

“The goal of this international workshop is to bring together the scientific community, experts, pathologists, breeders and young students, and share new research findings which could bring practical and sustainable solutions to combat the threat of barley leaf diseases,” said Dr. Michael Baum, ICARDA Biodiversity and Integrated Gene Management Program and Morocco Platform Director, speaking at the event’s opening session.

Barley is a major cereal grain grown on more than 49 million hectares (ha) globally, ranking fourth after maize, rice and wheat. Known as the ‘climate change crop’ for its ability to grow in the harshest of environments, barley requires little labor and inputs, generates stable yields, and is an important source of food, forage and livestock feed in many developing countries.

However, yields can be devastated by barley leaf diseases. “In North Africa, barley leaf diseases cause serious economic losses,” says Dr. Ramesh Verma, the ICARDA Barley Breeder. “To reduce these losses and guarantee high-quality barley production we promote integrated disease management concepts and develop disease-resistant crop varieties.”

“ICARDA genebanks play a crucial role,” says Mr. Aly Abousabaa, ICARDA’s Director General: “ICARDA has a global mandate for the improvement of barley, and our genebanks not only conserve seeds for tomorrow, but also provide germplasm for the breeding programs of today. The plant genetic resources we hold in trust are vital for breeding high-yielding and disease-resistant barley varieties, that are also tolerant to drought, salinity, and extreme high and low temperatures.”

In Morocco, about 2.2 million ha of land is allocated to barley, yielding an average production of 2.6 million tons yearly. In 2016, which was a very dry season, the production was only 700,000 tons. Almost 30% of reported yield losses were caused by net blotch, a common barley leaf disease across the North Africa region.

When leaf diseases are severe, they can cause significant reductions in grain yield and quality, leading to a downgrading of grain from malting quality to feed. Diseases can effectively be managed by using a combination of varietal selection, crop rotation and fungicides. In 2016, two naked barley varieties were released by INRA Morocco. Naked barley is a variety with an easy-to-remove hull.

“The Green Morocco Plan, in collaboration with ICARDA, is prioritizing research on barley crop by putting incentives for certified seeds production and use by farmers,” stated Prof. Mohammed Badraoui during his speech.

Barley is one of the oldest consumed grains in the world. It was a staple grain for centuries and is included in the diets of many African and Middle Eastern countries that have been consuming barley for thousands of years. Barley provides a range of important vitamins and minerals: fiber, selenium, beta glucan, vitamins, iron and zinc, with many other nutritional attributes. When compared to other grains, barley is lower in fat and calories, but higher in dietary fiber and minerals.

The workshop is expected to generate awareness for disease resistance breeding and integrated disease management approaches for countries in dry areas.


Please, find photos from the Second International Workshop on Barley Leaf Diseases here.



The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) is a global agricultural research organization working with countries in the world’s dry and marginal areas to deliver sustainable systems solutions that increase productivity, improve rural nutrition, and strengthen national food security. ICARDA is a member of CGIAR, a group of 15 international agricultural research centers that produce public goods science.

For more information, please contact:
Andrea Gros – ICARDA Head of Communications: e-mail: twitter: @icarda