Ethiopian smallholder farmers are generating new gains in their incomes as a result of ICARDA’s work with the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) on the improvement of pulses. The research cooperation has developed and released pulses with higher yield potential, better quality and stronger resilience to drought, heat and other stresses. In the summer 2016, EIAR released new chickpea technologies that are able to answer the growing demand in-country and abroad.
Throughout 2016, ICARDA has been working closely with the Debre Zeit Agricultural Research Center (DZARC), an EIAR research institute, to release two medium seed size Kabuli chickpea varieties, called Dhera and Hora, derived from germplasm supplied by ICARDA.
Dhera has the potential yield of 2.6 tons per hectare, an increase of 11% over standard chickpea varieties, and is suitable for mechanization. Similarly, Hora has a yield potential of 2.75 tons per hectare and a yield advantage of 23% over the standard. Both varieties have good grain quality, an optimal seed size, are suitable for early planting and resistant to important diseases such as Ascochyta blight, wilt and root rot complex.
DZARC plans to accelerate multiplication of these newly released varieties during the off-season and is partnering with USAID funded ICARDA projects for wider adoption and dissemination among farming communities.
In the years 2007 to 2011, Ethiopia’s average annual chickpea export revenue was US $28.7 million. By 2012, it had grown to over US $175 million, representing about 18% of total food legume export revenues. And by the 2014-2015 cropping season, chickpea was being grown by about 1.1 million smallholder farmers on 239,755 hectares, producing 458,682 tonnes, with an impressive national average yield of 1.9 tons per hectare.
The Ethiopian government recognizes the strategic importance of legumes to diversify the export market and has been placing increasing attention on these crops. A relative export performance index shows that Ethiopia has the potential to rival the main legume exporting countries - Canada, Egypt, Kenya, India and China. Ethiopia's favorable biophysical environment and the gap between supply and global demand indicate that the opportunity is huge for both the domestic and export markets. The great potential to expand contract farming through public-private partnerships involving the agro-processing industries and farmers, could be a game changer for the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and create a win-win situation for all market actors.
In addition, legumes play an important role in food and nutritional security as well as in the diversification and sustainable intensification of farming systems in the Ethiopian highlands.
2016 is the International Year of Pulses. Legumes are a major source of protein, especially for the majority of the farming communities which cannot afford to consume animal products. They also serve as a break crop that improves soil fertility through their atmospheric nitrogen fixation properties. This reduces the need for higher doses of inorganic fertilizers, providing cost savings to the farmers with more profit going into their pockets.