The chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.), or Garbanzo bean, is the most widely produced food legume in South Asia and the third largest produced food legume globally. It is grown in more than 50 countries, with more than 90% of chickpea production coming from Asia, predominantly India.
The humble chickpea is grown in tropical and arid regions of the world. The Kabuli type is grown in humid regions, while the Desi type is common throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Known the world over by their distinct shape and light-brown color, they are rich in nutrients and protein.
While the benefits of growing the nutritious chickpea cannot be overstated, the crop is particularly sensitive to temperatures and diseases and insect pests. While the crop can be grown in either winter or spring, freezing temperatures could lead to massive crop losses or complete crop failure.
ICARDA and Chickpea
ICARDA’s crop research on chickpea addresses both biotic and abiotic stresses.
With access to rich genetic resources in its Genebank, ICARDA has made significant headway in developing insect-resistant varieties. Using its rapid genebank mining tool, FIGS, ICARDA scientists have been able to identify lines resistant to leaf miner and pod borer – both severe yield reducers.
Under an EU-IFAD funded initiative, ICARDA scientists are developing and validating effective Integrated Pest Management techniques in Morocco to prevent the spread of Ascochyta Blight on chickpea. These environmentally friendly methods are helping farmers contain the pest population, reaching yields of 1.9 t/ha compared to 1.0 t/ha.
ICARDA’s winter chickpea research has made significant contributions to framing households in countries such as Syria, Iran, and Turkey, and Azerbaijan and has created conditions for additional increases in production of this very important crop. Working with national agricultural research systems, ICARDA’s research has been able to overcome key constraints that prevented cultivation of winter-sown varieties. For example, in 2014, ‘Saral’, a frost-resistant variety of chickpea, in partnership with the Dryland Agricultural Research Institute of Iran, was released. The genotype developed by the team can survive temperatures as low as -24°C, an innovation that is set to transform production in the cold highlands of Iran and other locations with similar environmental conditions.
The drought-tolerant kabuli chickpea, ‘Gokce’, developed by ICARDA and Turkish national scientists, has withstood severe drought in Turkey and produced when most other crops failed in 2007. Today, it accounts for more than 80% of chickpea production in Turkey.
In partnership with the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, improved chickpea varieties using ICARDA germplasm are being adapted to local environmental conditions, where farmers are reaping improved yields by as much as 60% over the traditional varieties. The Kabuli chickpea is expanding in Central Highlands and Ethiopia is now exporting 54,000 t of chickpea.
In Sudan, improved chickpea varieties ‘Salawa’ and ‘Burgieg’ have performed extremely well, generating an average 4.01 and 3.84 t/ha, respectively – far higher than the 1.66 t/ha average achieved by traditional varieties. ICARDA’s scientists are also conducting research to develop heat-tolerant chickpea suitable for different agro-climatic regions in Sudan. Twenty one chickpea genotypes were introduced from ICARDA to screen performance under Sudan’s heat stress conditions in different locations.