Hordeum spp.


Barley is a globally important crop adapted to marginal and stress-prone environments and is considered to be a risk-avoidance crop.

Barley is the fourth most important cereal crop in the world after wheat, maize and rice and has a global production of more than 150 million tonnes produced from about 60 million hectares. The area cultivated is now about the same as it was in the 1960s, but yield has doubled from 1.3 t/ha to 2.6 t/ha. The main barley growing countries are Russia, Canada and Germany.

Barley is grown from arctic latitudes to tropical areas and from sea level to high altitudes. In Tibet, Nepal, Ethiopia and the Andes, farmers cultivate barley at elevations higher than any other cereal. Barley predominates in the drylands of North Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Eritrea and Yemen. With such a widespread distribution, and with diverse uses that include human food, animal feed and as a raw material for alcoholic beverages, barley is the fourth most important cereal in the world.


Barley can be classified in different ways: by number of fertile seeds per spikelet, to give two-row, four-row and six-row types; by the beards (awns) covering the kernels (long-awned, short-awned, normal-hooded, elevated-hooded, etc.); and by other descriptors such as hulled presence (naked), use (feed or malt), height (tall, dwarf), seed colour (colourless, white, yellow, blue).

Wild Relatives

Wild Hordeum species are distributed through Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. Secondary centers of diversity of cultivated barley are found in Ethiopia and Morocco and parts of Asia.


Collecting Projects

Barley was first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent, where its wild progenitor Hordeum vulgare subsp. spontaneum still grows. Other centers of diversity of cultivated barley are found in Ethiopia and Morocco and parts of Asia. Wild relatives are distributed widely in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.


Barley collections include modern cultivars (currently in use), obsolete cultivars (often elite cultivars from the past that are frequently present in the pedigrees of modern cultivars), landraces, wild relatives, genetic and cytogenetic stocks, as well as breeding lines.

ICARDA maintains one of the largest barley collections, with more than 32,000 accessions. Of these, 8% are known to be landraces and a further 7% are wild relatives. Globally, nearly 400,000 accessions of barley are believed to be conserved, including in genebanks and breeders and research collections. It is estimated that there are 47 barley collections with more than 500 accessions and 26 smaller collections worldwide.

The importance of barley as one of the original staple cereals is reflected in the number of accessions: more than 176,000 are listed in Genesys. Most of these are advanced materials, including released cultivars and research lines. About 22% are traditional varieties and landraces. Accessions are widely distributed among genebanks, with the largest collection holding only a third of the listed accessions.

The global strategy for the ex situ conservation and use of barley germplasm identified 402,000 accessions held in 49 major collections worldwide.

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