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Freeze-resistant chickpeas offer higher, more stable yields

Dec 06,2012

Cold-tolerant (right) versus susceptible. The new varieties can survive sudden cold spells, even sub-zero temperatures.
Winter-planted chickpea crops can be severely damaged by cold spells. New genotypes can survive temperatures as low as –24°C.

Chickpea is a vital source of protein in many countries – but the crop is often severely affected by cold temperatures at critical stages of growth.

ICARDA and its partners are developing varieties that can survive long spells of freezing temperatures during the vegetative stage, and/or rapid temperature fluctuations during the reproductive phase.

The first is a long-standing problem. The second is becoming increasingly frequent in West and South Asia.

Winter versus spring

Chickpea can be planted in winter or in spring. In Mediterranean environments winter-planted chickpea could give nearly double the yield of spring-planted crops because it makes full use of rainfall. But it could also be exposed to freezing temperatures during the early growth phase, leading to yield losses or even total crop failure.

Another risk – which appears to be increasing, perhaps due to climate change – is the increasing frequency of unpredictable cold spells.

ICARDA and its partners are screening hundreds of genotypes from genebanks and breeding programs, to identify cold-tolerant materials.

Together with partners in West Asia and North Africa, we’ve identified nine improved chickpea lines that can tolerate a temperature of up to –12°C for 30 to 50 days during the vegetative growth stage.

Working with the Dryland Agriculture Research Institute in Iran, we’ve also identified three improved lines that can survive temperatures of –20°C without snow cover and –24°C under snow cover (the snow covers the young plants, providing a degree of insulation).

These temperatures would kill most chickpea plants. The new lines will enable farmers to take advantage of the greater yields offered by winter-sown crops without the risk of crop failure.

Coping with cold shocks

In recent years, chickpea crops in northern Syria have been exposed to short-term cold shocks during the spring, when the crop is entering the reproductive stage. Temperatures have dipped briefly to –6°C, then risen rapidly to well above freezing.

Such shocks, which have also occurred in South Asia, cause flowers to abort and pods to shrivel.

Initial screening by ICARDA has identified improved lines and wild relatives that seem able to tolerate these conditions, but more needs to be done to identify suitable breeding stock.

Screening is continuing at ICARDA’s Tel Hadya research station, which regularly experiences these temperature patterns.

Researchers identified three lines that can survive temperatures of –24°C.


  • Dryland Agriculture Research Institute, Iran