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Barley study in Karak prepares ground for climate-resilient crop

By Johanna Montanari - Jul 23,2019 - Last updated at Jul 23,2019

AMMAN — Karak is part of an agricultural study being carried out by a team from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) in Germany and the University of Jordan to grow crops resistant to climate change.

The researchers bred a new line of barley that achieves good crop yields even under harsh heat and drought. For their work, originally published in the academic journal “Scientific Reports” in April this year, the researchers crossed a common variety of barley with 25 types of wild barley. 

Next, they planted 48 genetically different plants in five very different locations around the world — one of them in Karak.

“The results of the study are interesting,” Yahya Shakhatreh, from the Ministry of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC), told The Jordan Times. 

Shakhatreh has studied the genetic diversity of wild Jordanian barley. “Jordan is considered a centre of diversity and the place of origin of the crop,” he explained. 

Ayed Al Abdallat, an assistant professor at the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science at the University of Jordan, was responsible for planting the barley in Karak and directly involved in the project. 

He said this and similar research could be especially beneficial for Jordan: “In the southern parts of Jordan the agricultural sector plays a major role. It helps the local population to improve their incomes from livestock,” he told The Jordan Times. 

“Frequent, prolonged drought, uneven distribution of rainfall and terminal heat cause major losses in cereal cultivated areas there [southern Jordan]. Furthermore, wheat and barley fields face a problem with a leaf miner insect,” Abdallat said, adding that “climate change is adding even more harm to the farms as it is now common to have less rain and higher temperatures”.

One factor is especially important, according to Abdallat: “Fine-tuning the time to flower is crucial in developing new material for dry areas in Jordan.” Currently the researchers are testing the barley varieties across different environments in Jordan and comparing them with local varieties in collaboration with the NARC. 

Shakhatreh added that one variety of barley developed by the NARC and used in the study as a benchmark out-yielded barley developed by the research team. 

Abdallat explained that the researchers will focus on the varieties that grow best and donate them to the NARC to be included in field demonstration plots to “help farmers in dry areas adopt new material with improved resilience to drought and heat”. 

Shakhatreh confirmed that, in collaboration with the University of Jordan, the NARC has agreed to select the top five performing lines to begin evaluations starting next growing season (2019-2020). 

“We have a good breeding cereals programme focusing at improving and developing new improved wheat and barley with high yields under local environmental conditions,” Shakhatreh said. 

“Each year, we receive more than 1,500 genetic materials from different research centres and evaluate them. The best performing genotypes will be promoted and included in the national breeding crop programmes.”

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