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.