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Improved Barley Varieties - Feeding People from the Equator to the Arctic

News Article
18 September 2012

Fig. 1 - Peruvian Breeders & Farmers on Barley Field in the Highlands (Photo courtesy of Prof. L. GÓMEZ-PANDO, Universidad Nacional Agraria de La Molina, Lima, Peru)

In the Andean highlands of Peru, native crops such as barley (Hordeum vulgare L.), quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) and amaranth “kiwicha” (Amaranthus caudatus) are important food security crops for the 3 million people living there from subsistence agriculture.

Through efforts initiated in the 1970s the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina with the Joint FAO/IAEA Programme (NAFA/AGE) assistance in technology adaptation and transfer and capacity building through Agency CRPs and national as well as regional TCPs, for the use of induced mutations and supportive biotechnologies, has developed new mutant varieties and genetic resources of these crops. Since 1978, the continuous Agency in conjunction with the governmental and regional stakeholders’ support, the establishment of Tissue Culture, Molecular Biology and Grain Quality Laboratories and the build-up of well-qualified personnel, produced the reported good results.

Fig. 2 a, b - Peruvian Farmers Threshing Barley (Photo courtesy of Prof. L. GÓMEZ-PANDO, Universidad Nacional Agraria de La Molina, Lima, Peru)

Planted in zones above 3,000 m (up to 5,000 m), where adverse climatic conditions do not allow other crops to be grown, barley is the main food security component for the 3 million native Peruvians living off subsistence agriculture in the Peruvian Andes. In an effort initiated in the 1970s, the National Agrarian University of La Molina, together with the IAEA and the Backus Foundation, developed, up until now, 9 improved varieties of barley through mutation induction and crosses that now cover 90% of the barley producing area in Peru. Some of the popular high yielding barley mutant varieties in the highlands are the mutant barley variety UNA La Molina 95 which was released in 1995 and more recently Centenario II released in 2006.

Centenario II is popular among the farmers community because it is of high yield, has quality flour, tolerance to damage by hail (due to its inclined head) and high value. Some farmers in the highlands reported impressive yield of 6 to 8 tons/ha with their standard agronomic practices, compared to the average of 4 tons/ha which was recorded by the breeder on the research farms during development of the variety, and a more than 6-fold increase in productivity of the original barley grown in 1978. Other characteristics for the popularity are the easy removal of the husk and the suitability in use of the grain as meal for the family and is becoming and important export variety.

Fig. 3 - Peruvian Farmers Visiting Field with Barley Mutant Variety Centenario II (Photo courtesy of Prof. L. GÓMEZ-PANDO, Universidad Nacional Agraria de La Molina, Lima, Peru)

As such, Centenario II is improving the livelihood of the Andean population through a sustainable increase in food security and reduction of rural poverty: since gaining access to improved mutant seeds of barley, the Andean population has been experiencing a steadily increasing income originating from the sales of the production surplus. Farmers in the high Andes, now produce enough grain to meet their personal food needs, with enough left over for processing into pearl barley, flour and flakes. As a result, small factories have been created and work with the farmers in a collective initiative, benefiting poor communities in the area. Thus, the leading breeder, and scientist, because of the socio-economic impact of the improved barley varieties, was recognized by the award of the Peruvian 2006 Prize of Good Governmental Practices.

Building on the skills and success obtained in barley, the cereal breeding programme at La Molina, intimated a mutation breeding programme in the pseudo cereals quinoa and amaranth “kiwicha”. In 2006, a mutant amaranth variety Centenario, was released, which is currently the second most important cultivar of amaranth in Peru.

Fig. 4 - Production Field of Centenario Amaranth Mutant Cultivar at Andahuaylas - Apuri mac, Mutant Cultivar at Andahuaylas - Peru at 3000 m above sea level (Photo courtesy of Prof. L. GÓMEZ-PANDO, Universidad Nacional Agraria de La Molina, Lima, Peru)

To date, the amaranth variety Centenario is cultivated in about 463.25 ha of land by small farmers, NGOs, enterprises, as well as private and public institutions. The reported productivity by farmers at 3000m altitude ranged up to 5,000 kg per ha. Desired for export due to its high quality grain, and because it is cultivated under good agronomic practice with little or no chemically maintained weed, pest, or disease management interventions, it is certified as an organic produce, through which the farms generate more income (export increase to Japan from 20 MT in 2002 to 200 MT in 2009).

The story on the barley mutant was documented in the IAEA Video “The Birth of Centenario”, which has been released at the Scientific Forum on Food for the Future: Meeting the Challenges with Nuclear Applications, on occasion of the 56th IAEA General Conference, 18-19 September 2012, Vienna International Centre, Austria. To watch the video, please click on http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/multimedia/videos/gc56/180912/centenario/index.html.

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