The International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) has developed participatory breeding (PPB) programmes in Algeria, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Jordan and Syria on crops widely produced in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) such as barley, wheat, lentil, chickpea and faba bean. ICARDA decided to convert its breeding programmes from a classical model to a participatory approach in the late 1990’s after successfully breeding several new varieties of barley with Syrian farmers.
Barley is grown on more than 5 million hectares across the MENA region and remains popular for its ability to adapt to harsh conditions and its use as livestock feed. To address the shortfall in both adapted and high yielding barely varieties, ICARDA brought together farmers, breeders, and social scientists as partners to solve this challenge. Between 1997 and 2004, the ICARDA barley breeding program featured farmer selection and breeding line evaluation on 8,000 plots planted in farmers’ fields. Host farmers in 9 communities were linked to 2 research stations from which they obtained experimental lines to combine with their own local varieties. As part of these trials several new varieties were identified that satisfied farmers’ needs for high yields and palatability for grain and straw for their animals.
The Syrian example demonstrated that farmers could handle large populations of plant varieties, develop their own measurement and scoring systems, and that they could be as efficient if not more so than trained breeders in selecting the highest-yielding varieties in both their own fields and in lower rainfall research stations. Based on the successes of the programme, the ICARDA team extended the PPB model to 6 other commodities. Complementary to the PPB efforts, ICARDA has begun participatory research in natural resource management, in particular on sustainable land management in dry areas.