Introducing barley for mixing with wheat flour to bridge the cereal yield gap in Egypt
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Introducing barley for mixing with wheat flour to bridge the cereal yield gap in Egypt.
Egyptian wheat production stands at just over 8.8 million tons and yet the country remains the largest wheat importer bringing in 12.5 million tons annually at an estimated value of US$ 2.1 billion. With a population around 100 million and bread remaining the main staple food – particularly for the country’s poor – dependence on this crop, and its consumption, remains high. Around 70 percent of the population benefit from a food subsidy program where people receive five loafs of baladi bread per day at a price of EGP 0.05 (around US$ 0.003) per day. Through this system, bakeries are subsidized for the difference in costs, and for the fiscal year 2018/19, the Egyptian Government allocated USD 4.8 billion to the bread and food subsidy schemes1 . Wheat production is a key priority as a crucial economic and food security concern, and as of October 2018, Egypt maintained wheat reserves sufficient to cover its needs for 4.3 months2 . Egypt has dedicated significant efforts to improve the situation mainly through efforts to improve wheat productivity. With the introduction of new varieties and improved production technologies including raised-bed technology for increased water efficiency, the wheat yield has become among the highest in the region. Despite these gains, the potential to bridge the yield gap is constrained by the decreasing water availability in the country partly associated with the effects of climate change coupled with the raising demand due to an increasing population. The area of land suitable for this crop is also limited. In light of this challenge, new ways of closing the yield gap and increasing the production of bread are being explored including addressing wheat demand. Mixing barley into the flour mix for baladi bread has come up as a promising alternative due to the crop’s suitability for production in marginal lands under rainfed conditions. In addition to that, barley has benefits including high nutrition values, resilience to climate change (adaptability to drought, salinity and heat), low cost of production compared to other cereals, and potential to support livestock productivity through its high yield and quality of straw for livestock, and grain for chicken and sheep. If gradually introduced to reach scale, the inclusion of barley in the baladi bread flour mix would provide significant economic benefits of closing the wheat yield gap as the current levels of wheat imports and related subsidies are placing a heavy toll on the Egyptian economy, while at the same time generating employment and rural livelihoods. The introduction of around 20 percent barley in composite flour would entail the need for an associated development and expansion of barley production in Egypt. To produce an additional 200-250,000 tons of barley, an area of up to 75,000 ha is needed. Due to the relatively lower water requirements of barley compared to wheat, rather than expanding on lands dedicated for wheat, barley could gradually be introduced on marginal and reclaimed lands with supplementary irrigation, as well as on irrigated lands with high salinity. Such an expansion of barley production would ensure a higher level of national self-sufficiency of cereals, while maintaining the natural resource base and adapting to climate change, especially in comparison to an alternative scenario for expansion of wheat production.
- Agricultural Research Knowledge