Farmer participation in barley breeding in Syria, Morocco and Tunisia
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The paper describes experiments on farmer participation in plant breeding conducted in three countries (Morocco, Syria and Tunisia) on barley, which is the predominant annual rainfed crop in the most marginal areas of these countries. Trials with different types and number of breeding material were planted both on research stations and in farmers' fields. Selection was done by professional breeders and farmers and data were gathered on breeders' and farmers' selection criteria and selection efficiency. The trials reflected the situation of the crop in the three countries, with high yields on station, low yields in some of the most marginal farmers' fields, and poor correlations between research stations and farmers' fields, as well as between farmers' fields. Grain yield was by far the most commonly used selection criterion by the farmers. However, farmers also made a widespread use of selection criteria not normally used by breeders such as grain filling and straw yield, as well as other characteristics of the straw (color) and of the leaves because of the importance of the crop as source of animal feed. A major difference between the selection criteria used by breeders and farmers was disease resistance, almost entirely neglected by the latter. Farmer selection was effective in identifying some of the highest yielding lines in the farmers' own fields and also in those cases where they performed selection on station. The coincidence between entries selected by the breeder and the farmers was high in Morocco but very low in Syria and Tunisia. There were substantial differences between the lines selected by the breeders on station and those selected by farmers in their fields. In Syria, decentralized-participatory selection was significantly more efficient in identifying the highest yielding entries in farmers' fields than any other selection strategy. This work demonstrates that it is possible to organize a plant breeding program so that farmers become major actors in the selection of new cultivars.
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