Breeding for Low/High Input


, Volume 92, Issue 1, pp 203-214

First online:

Adaptation to low/high input cultivation

  • Salvatore CeccarelliAffiliated withThe International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA)

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Many aeas of world, particular those where agriculture is largely practiced by resource-poor farmers with little or no use of external inputs, have not benefitted from the spectacular yield increases achieved by the combination of modern breeding technologies and use of inputs. The paper argues that because breeding is mostly conducted in presence of high inputs, it has systematically missed the opportunity to exploit genetic differences at low levels of inputs. Many studies show that these differences do exist, particularly in the case of fertilizers, and that these differences can only be identified is selection is conducted under the target level of inputs. Although this was predicted by theory more than 40 years ago, and has been supported by a large body of experimental data, very few breeders select in sub-optimal or stress conditions. The most common justification is the high environmental variation, and hence the lower heritability expected in low input conditions. While this is not supported by experimental evidence, the paper shows that in the case of a typical crop grown in low-input and climatically marginal conditions such as barley, genetic gains are possible by using locally adapted germplasm and by selecting in the target environment. Similar conclusions, in relation to the use of a low-input selection environment, have been reached recently in maize. It is concluded that the best avenue to a sustainable increase of agricultural production in low-input agricultural systems is through locally based breeding programs.

Key words

Hordeum vulgare barley genotype by environment interaction landraces low-input agriculture specific adaptation