Farmers' innovation and selection of barley varieties were studied in the Tigray Region in northern Ethiopia. Two districts each in the central and southern zones and three districts in the eastern zone of Tigray were randomly selected for this study, which sought to understand the current status of local barley varieties and to measure their relative preference by farmers. Household surveys were conducted covering 240 households to elicit farmers' views on the values, constraints, and opportunities of growing local varieties of barley. This was supported by focus-group and informal discussions with elders, key informants, and women's groups. Case studies were made of local farmers whom the community recognized as barley breeders. Twenty-four barley varieties and their major descriptors were recorded. Seed and varietal-selection criteria depended on the environmental and varietal characteristics. Investigation of intrahousehold decision making indicated that, while men tended to decide on the type of variety to grow, seed storage and processing were exclusively the responsibility of women. Farmers undertook preharvest and postharvest selection, giving emphasis mainly to earliness and spike characteristics. The distinct varietal-selection and seed-renewal procedures revealed their potential for use in further plant breeding. The case-study analysis of farmer-developed varieties provided knowledge that, if combined with scientists' knowledge, could lead to identification and development of valuable cultivars with a wide potential for use in semiarid areas of Tigray and other parts of Ethiopia.
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