Crops   » Chickpea
An ancient crop for the modern world
Chickpea grain is an excellent source of high-quality protein, with a wide range of essential amino acids. The crop also fixes relatively large amounts of atmospheric nitrogen.By focusing on early maturity and high yield, researchers are helping transform what was once a subsistence crop into an internationally traded commodity and source of income for rural communities.

6.7 million tons – The amount of chickpea produced worldwide in 2012.

95% – Developing countries’ share of global chickpea production.

100% – The increase in land under chickpea in Eastern and Southern Africa since 1980.

400% – Growth in chickpea area in West Asia over the past three decades.

In a scientific advance involving scientists from more than 20 research organizations, sequencing of the chickpea genome was recently completed for 90 chickpea genotypes, including several wild species. The researchers responsible for the work, led by ICRISAT, succeeded in identifying more than 28,000 genes and several million genetic markers that scientists expect will lead to the development of superior varieties.

The new research will benefit the millions of developing country farmers who grow chickpea as a source of much needed income, as well as for its ability to add nitrogen to the soil in which it grows. A close relative of peas, chickpeas are rich in protein, but low in fat. Consumed in many different forms, the crop is probably best known as the central ingredient in hummus, the Arabic word for chickpea.

Production is growing rapidly across the developing world, especially in West Asia where production has grown four-fold over the past 30 years. India is by far the world largest producer but is also the largest importer.

Origins of the crop
​Chickpeas are one of the earliest known cultivated legumes, tracing their ancestry back at least 7,000 years to the dawn of agriculture. The crop is thought to have originated in southeast Turkey and spread west and south via the Silk Road. Four centers of diversity have been identified – the Mediterranean region, Central Asia, the Near East, and India – with a secondary center of diversity in Ethiopia. There is also evidence from Middle Eastern archaeological sites of chickpeas being grown as far back as the early Bronze Age. Desi chickpeas are thought to be the earliest form of the crop, as they closely resemble seeds found at archaeological sites and those that are produced by the wild ancestor of domesticated chickpeas (Cicer reticulatum), which grows solely in southeast Turkey.
Source: F.J. Muehlbauer and Abebe Tullu, Purdue University.

Where chickpeas are grown today
This highly adaptable food and forage crop is cultivated in many different cropping systems and is grown more widely than any other legume except soybean. Desi chickpeas are by far the most prominent, accounting for close to 80% of global production (see table right). Desi varieties are cultivated primarily on the Indian Subcontinent and in Ethiopia, Mexico and Iran. Desi types can tolerate cooler temperatures and mature more quickly making them suitable for a wider range of production environments. Australia, Canada, and the USA, for example, are also significant producers, mainly for export to South Asian markets.

Kabuli chickpeas are grown largely in Southern Europe, Northern Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Chile, but are also found on the Indian Subcontinent having been introduced there in the 18th century.

South and Southeast Asia account for more than 80% of global production. The crop is mainly rainfed and is often grown on residual soil moisture at the end of the rainy season. At many locations farmer can now produce a fast-growing chickpea crop in between the harvest and planting of high yielding, early maturing cereals.

With production deficits expected to continue in South Asia, scientists believe that African farmers growing improved chickpea varieties for export could make up much of the shortfall.

Main threats to production
Chickpeas are susceptible to several major diseases and insect pests and yields can fall precipitously if the crop is exposed to extreme temperatures or drought. At many locations farmers must produce their crops in 90 to 120 days to avoid the risks associated with drought and high temperatures. In response to these problems, scientists have developed new, more robust early maturing cultivars with higher levels of disease resistance and excellent drought tolerance.

Current and future research
Modern early maturing chickpea lines have had a considerable impact in short season environments across South and Southeast Asia transforming what was once a subsistence crop to into significant income generator and export commodity.

  • In Myanmar, the world’s sixth largest producing nation, early maturing cultivars now cover some 80% of the area devoted to chickpea. Adoption of improved cultivars has led to a four-fold increase in the production.
  • Indian farmers have reported comparable productivity increases ranging from 50 to 90% percent.

Currently, efforts are being made to enhance tolerance to terminal drought and heat stresses. In addition, researchers are working to boost the crop’s natural nutritional advantages by increasing its protein, iron and zinc content. Plans also call for developing varieties that are resistant to herbicides and can be harvested with small machinery to reduce costs and overcome labor shortages that arise at weeding and harvest time. These efforts should help to reduce production shortages, stabilize prices for producers and consumers, and help to drive the development of overseas markets.

Chickpea goes by several common names, including garbanzo beans, ceci beans, sanagalu, kala chana, and Bengal gram.

There are two main types:

Desi chickpeas are smaller in size, light to dark brown in color, and havea thick seed coat.
Kabuli chickpeas are larger than the Desi types, have a whitish-cream color, and a thin seed coat.