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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains
can be cultivated satisfactorily. It is very important throughout most of the upper highlands, for example, where it accounts for about 60 percent of the population's total plant food. Farmers in that area rely on fast-maturing types to save their families from starving during food shortages.
This is just one example of the genetic wealth to be found among Ethiopia's barleys. Other traits include:
High yields. Some Ethiopian barleys have big and heavy kernels, some plants tiller (send up multiple shoots and seedheads) very well, and others mature quickly.
High nutrition. Some have high levels of protein and a few are high in lysine and are thus exceptionally nutritious. They are the only known source of quality-protein barley.12
Disease resistance. Several have resistance to diseases such as powdery mildew, leaf rust, net blotch, Septoria, scald, spot blotch, loose smut, barley yellow dwarf virus, and barley stripe mosaic virus.
Drought resistance. Many have the ability to grow under dry conditions—a feature apparently related to deep and efficient root types.
Tolerance to marginal soils.
Resistance to barley shoot fly and aphids.
Vigorous seedling establishment.
On the other hand, Ethiopia's barleys tend to blow down easily due to weak straw and tall, spindly growth. Some specimens suffer from the condition known as "fragile rachis," in which the seed spike breaks apart and spills the seeds on the ground.
The outside world's barley breeders have not neglected Ethiopia's materials. For example, they employ the accession called Jet (jetblack seeds) to obtain resistance to loose smut, a severe fungal disease. In the United States and several other countries they have employed the genes for resistance to the extremely damaging barley yellow dwarf virus, leading to great savings in grain yields. But many more useful types remain to be employed both at home and abroad.
Ethiopia also has a native oats, Avena abyssinica. Partially domesticated in the distant past, this species is largely nonshattering—that is, it retains most of its grain so farmers can harvest them conveniently.
See companion report, Quality-Protein Maize. Quality-protein barleys are rich in amino acids, such as lysine. that are vital to human nutrition and yet normally deficient in cereals. They have been called "Hi-proly" by the Danish food scientists who have studied them most. (For a list of BOSTID publications, see page 377.)