Wheat and barley seed systems in Ethiopia and Syria

Z. Bishaw

Research output: Thesisexternal PhD, WU


Keywords: Wheat,Triticumspp., Barley,Hordeumvulgare L., Seed Systems, Formal Seed Sector, Informal Seed Sector, National Seed Program, Seed Source, Seed Selection, Seed Management, Seed Quality, Genetic Diversity, Ethiopia, Syria

InEthiopiaandSyria, wheat and barley are the two most important principal cereal crops grown since ancient times.Manygenerations of natural and human selection led into highly adapted and diverse populations of local landraces. For most of the history of agriculture, plant improvement and seed selection were farmer-based activities carried out as an integral part of crop production. Withthe development of commercial agriculture, plant breeding and seed production evolved into different disciplines.Thewheat and barley seedsystemswere studied in Ethiopia and Syria to obtain an insight into the functioning of formal and informal seed systems with emphasis on understanding: the flow of information on new agricultural technologies;farmers' perception, criteria and adoption of modern varieties; farmers' seed sources and indigenous knowledge in seed management practices; quality of seed planted by farmers and its constraints;and on-farm wheat and barley diversity.

Farmers use multiple sources of information such as the formal (extension services, development agencies, research institutions, media broadcast) or the informal (own experience, relatives, neighbors, other farmers, local traders) sources to acquire knowledge on varieties and/or agronomic packages for crop production. Most wheat growers (over 90%) are aware of and have information on modern varieties, agrochemical inputs (fertilizers, herbicides, etc.) and agronomic packages.In Ethiopia, the formal extension service was the main source of information for new technologies generated by research through its recently introduced agricultural package program, comparatively more so than in Syria where fellow farmers (relatives, neighbors and other farmers) accounted as the major source of information. Neighbors and other farmers were the second most important informal sources of information particularly for modern varieties partly due to the lateralvarietaldiffusion through traditional seed exchanges.

Farmers grow three broad categories of wheat varieties, i.e. recommended, 'obsolete' or landraces. An extensive use of modern wheat varieties and production packages was found among wheat growers in both countries. InEthiopia, the majority of farmers grew modern bread wheat varieties (76% recommended and 10% obsolete varieties), and applied fertilizers (96.7%) and herbicides (63.5%) to their wheat crop. Similarly, wheat farmers inSyriaused modern varieties on the recommended list (97%), fertilizers (99.5%), herbicides (92.7%), storage pesticides (40.8%), and seed treatment chemicals (90.3%). However, the use of modern varieties and associated technologies was negligible for barley growers inSyriaexcept for the use of fertilizers (56%). Although seven modern barley varieties were released none of them were widely adopted because of farmers' preferences or lack ofvarietaladaptability. The entire barley area (99%) was planted with a local landraceArabiAswadin northeasternSyria. Developing crop varieties with high yield and yield stability foragroecologicallydiverse durum wheat growing environments inEthiopiaor agro-climatically variable marginal environments typical to barley production areas in northeasternSyriastill remains a challenging task.

About 26 technological and socio-economic criteria were identified by farmers for adopting new modern wheat and barley varieties or for evaluating those currently grown on their farm. Grain yield, grain color, grain size, marketability and food quality (feed quality for barley), appeared most important in both crops and transcended all regions. Ethiopian farmers also consider tolerance to pests very important given their awareness of the susceptibility of the existing wheat varieties to major rust diseases. In Syria, non-lodging, frost tolerance or drought tolerance are additional agronomic characteristics farmers seeking from new wheat varieties. Some wheat local landraces were highly preferred by farmers because of their unique adaptation to diverseagroecologicalzones, stable yield, grain quality, marketability and for traditional food preparation. Most farmers in Syria had positive perceptions of the barley local landrace where one third saw no disadvantage in growing it.

Farmers' seed acquisition from external sources is dynamic reflecting their response to specifictechnical and socio-economic factorsassociated with farming. Farmers used four main sources of seed for planting: (a) own saved seed from the previous years' harvest; (b) seed obtained from relatives, neighbors or other farmers; (c) seed purchased through local markets or grain traders; and (d) seed purchased from the formal sector. The informal farmer-to-farmer seed exchange is the major initial source of wheat and barley varieties as well as for seed used for planting each year. InEthiopia, the informal sector accounted as an initial source of modern varieties for 58% of the wheat farmers and as a source of seed for planting for 92% of farmers in 1997/98 crop season.InSyriathe formal sector was the main initial seed source of modern wheat varieties where it accounted for nearly 60%, but provided wheat seed for only 24% among sample farmers in 1998/99 crop season.Almost all barley farmers (87%) as expected initially sourced their current seed stock from informal sources (relatives, other farmers, neighbors or local markets).Farmers had a positive perception of seed both from formal and informal sources and were generally satisfied with the quality of seed obtained from different sources. Farmers purchase seed from the formal sector because of likely perception of high physical purity, chemical treatment, or as a strategy to acquire new varieties. Moreover, most farmers were also satisfied with the quality of own saved seed or that obtained from other informal sources due to its timely availability, less or no transaction costs or lack of credit facilities, adaptable varieties and certified seed.

Farmers' perception of seed influenced them topractisedifferent on-farm seed management approaches to maintain the quality of their wheat and barley seed through selection (46-67%), cleaning (83-90%), treatment (4-90%), separate storage (64-76%) or informal assessment of physiological quality (3-34%). Almost all wheat and barley growers recognized the difference between grain and seed and attributed these to physical purity, absence of weeds, big kernel size,goodgermination, free of insect damage. The responsibility for on-farm seed management was shared between men and women, who had a distinctive role to play.

In Ethiopia, the mean physical purity and germination of wheat seed was 98.92 and 96%, respectively and the majority of samples reached the minimum purity and germination standards. In Syria, mean physical purity and germination for wheat was 97.59% and 86%, respectively whereas for barley the average analytical purity was 95.47% and germination was 86%. However, the quality of wheat seed samples was higher than that of barley seed samples where most of the samples (90 and 28% for purity and germination, respectively) failed to meet the minimum official seed standards. Highly significant differences in seed quality were observed for seed samples collected from different regions and districts for wheat and barley crops in both countries. However, there was limited significant difference in physiological quality of seed samples obtained from different sources, but not in physical quality.

Several seed-borne fungi such asDrechslerasativum,Septorianodorum andFusariumgraminearum, F. poae, F. avenaceum, and F. nivale including storage fungi were recorded across samples from different wheat growing region ofEthiopia. Among fungal pathogens isolated from wheat seed, 83.6% of samples were infected with D.sativum (average infection rate of 1.85%) and 74% of the samples withFusariumgraminearum (average infection rate of 1.54%). Infection with loose smut (Ustilagotritici) , common bunt (Tilletiaspp.) and seed gall nematode (Anguinatritici ) was low where only 11.2, 2.3 and 8.6% of the samples were infected, respectively. InSyria, 68 and 14% of wheat seed samples were infected with common bunt and loose smut, respectively. The average loose smut infection was 0.8%. The majority of barley seed samples were also infected with covered smut (Ustilagohordei =85%) and loose smut (83%) in varying proportion. The average loose smut infection for barley was 18%. Seed health quality of wheat was better than of barley in terms of the frequency (number of samples) and intensity of infection (% infection).

On-farmvarietaldiversity in terms of the number of varieties/landraces grown and area coverage were quite low both for wheat and barley. Farm level surveys showed low spatial diversity where few dominant wheat varieties occupy a large proportion of area. These few wheat varieties were also grown by the majority of farmers threatening the diversity of local landraces. InEthiopia, the five top wheat varieties were grown by 56% of the sample farmers and these varieties were planted on 80% of the total wheat area whereas forSyriait was 78 and 81%, respectively in the same order. In case of barley one single local landrace was grown in the entire survey area. The weighted average age of wheat varietieswas13.8 years for bread wheat inEthiopiaand 10.8 years for wheat inSyriashowing lowvarietalreplacement by farmers, an indicator of low temporal diversity. The coefficient of parentage analysis showed that the average and weighted diversity for bread wheat was 0.76 and 0.66, respectively inEthiopiaand for bread wheat (0.73/0.42) and durum wheat (0.85/0.73) inSyria. The field experiments showed significant variations for desirable agronomic and phenotypic traits diversity such as plant height, grain yield, and yield components (spike length,spikeletsspike -1 , kernels per spike -1 , seed weight) among wheat and barley varieties and/or local landraces. This study combined farmer surveys, laboratory analysis and field experiments to better understand farmer's perception and adoption of modern varieties (and associated technologies) and to investigate on-farm genetic diversity and seed quality suggesting alternative ways for improving and strengthening the national seed system. Moreover, the study used extensive secondary data to draw a synthesis on the future direction of the national seed sector in developing countries in general and of the Ethiopian and Syrian seed industry in particular.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Struik, Paul, Promotor
  • van Gastel, A.J.G., Co-promotor, External person
Award date26 Apr 2004
Place of Publication[S.l.]
Print ISBNs9789085040354
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • triticum aestivum
  • hordeum vulgare
  • wheat
  • barley
  • seed industry
  • quality
  • ethiopia
  • syria


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