Food security and livelihoods for a majority of Ethiopians depends on smallholder farming. Barley is an important crop grown by over 4 million smallholder farmers for multiple uses as food, feed and as a cash crop for an emerging malting and brewing industry. Food barley accounts for 85-90% of barley production. Ethiopia is a centre of barley domestication and diversity, and barley has an important place in African dryland agriculture in general, resiliently producing stable yields under extreme temperature, drought, and salinity conditions, characteristics that will be increasingly important for food security under conditions of climate change. Despite these advantages, Ethiopian barley cultivars achieve low yields and are susceptible to losses from lodging, pests, and diseases. Research organisations in Ethiopia are beginning to provide access to new varieties with increased yield, and brewers have also introduced a few European semi-dwarf varieties for the malting barley sector. These emerging efforts could be greatly assisted by collaborations with researchers in Dundee to understand and characterise relevant traits in Ethiopian cultivars, to identify the genetic diversity in Ethiopian germplasm, and to develop molecular markers for future barley breeding. Researchers from the University of Dundee and the James Hutton Institute visited Ethiopia on a fact-finding mission in 2017 and set up informal collaborations with several institutions there. Collectively we are committed to finding ways to assist in the improvement of Ethiopian barley, and several projects have already been awarded funding.

Royal Society Challenge Grant
‘Understanding barley straw traits to improve sustainability and yield’

This project aims to determine the value of existing extensive genetic information on barley cultivars generated at the University of Dundee and the James Hutton Institute, for deployment in barley improvement programmes in Ethiopia. We have access to the outputs of several large phenotyping projects that could be used to generate or refine data of potential value to breeding better barley for Ethiopia. We will focus on traits of value for food barley production, that help preserve grain yield. One such trait that is particularly important for Ethiopian barley production is lodging-resistance. Lodging in small grain cereals generally causes significant yield losses in low and middle income countries and will become a major problem with increased frequency of extreme weather due to climate change. Most traditional Ethiopian barley varieties are tall and very susceptible to lodging. The introduction of green revolution semi-dwarf varieties will reduce lodging but these semi-dwarf varieties require high fertilizer regimes, and farmers in Ethiopia don’t like them as they produce less straw which is needed for animal feed and other purposes. Understanding the relative contributions and potential interactions of different biological processes to lodging susceptibility, and revealing the genes and allelic variants that influence them, could be crucial to developing strategies for generating lodging resistant cereal crops for arid low input environments. This project aims to do just that, and exploit datasets on stem strength and field lodging phenotypes across an association genetic panel of spring barley cultivars, to identify more precisely the loci and candidate genes for lodging susceptibility/resistance so as to produce molecular markers that can select for or against those loci in breeding programmes, and to explore the various phenomena involved.
For further information on this project please contact Claire Halpin (

University of Dundee GCRF PhD Studentship

Robbie Waugh, Claire Halpin and Joanne Russell have been awarded a 3-year PhD studentship for Mr. Girma Fana, an Ethiopian Barley Breeder. Mr. Fana will pursue a project to gain a deeper scientific understanding of the extent of local barley genetic diversity in Ethiopia using modern genetic tools, and to develop and implement breeding tools for use ‘in country’ to address sustainable crop production and varietal development. The foundation of the project revolves around the genetic characterisation of unique locally adapted Ethiopian barley genetic resources and using that information and understanding to drive the genetic improvement through a modernised public plant breeding program.
For further information on this project please contact Robbie Waugh ( or, Claire Halpin ( or Joanne Russell (