, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 141-178
Date: 01 Jun 2011

Crops that feed the world 4. Barley: a resilient crop? Strengths and weaknesses in the context of food security

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Abstract

Barley is cultivated both in highly productive agricultural systems and also in marginal and subsistence environments. Its distribution is worldwide and is of considerable economic importance for animal feed and alcohol production. The overall importance of barley as a human food is minor but there is much potential for new uses exploiting the health benefits of whole grain and beta-glucans. The barley supply chains are complex and show added value at many stages. Germplasm resources for barley are considerable, with much potential for exploitation of its biodiversity available through the use of recently developed genomic and breeding tools. Consequently, substantial gains in crucial sustainability characteristics should be achievable in the future, together with increased understanding of the physiological basis of many agronomic traits, particularly water and nutrient use efficiency. Barley’s ability to adapt to multiple biotic and abiotic stresses will be crucial to its future exploitation and increased emphasis on these traits in elite germplasm is needed to equip the crop for environmental change. Similarly, resource use efficiency should become a higher priority to ensure the crop’s sustainability in the long-term. Clearly barley is a resilient crop with much potential which can be realised in the future.