Chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.) is the world’s second-largest smallholder-cultivated food legume. Developing countries account for over 95% of its production and consumption. Chickpea grain is an excellent source of high-quality protein, with a wide range of essential amino acids. Chickpea also fixes relatively large amounts of atmospheric nitrogen.
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.
India, a major chickpea consuming nation, does not produce enough domestically to meet its needs, creating export opportunities for East African and other countries to sell into this large market. As a consequence the chickpea area in Eastern and Southern Africa has doubled over the past 30 years with exports accounting for about 30% of total production, indicating that farmers are using chickpea for both food and to earn extra income. The area under chickpea in West Asia has also increased dramatically in the past 30 years (from 378,000 ha to 1,526,000 ha) leading to the export of chickpea from countries such as Turkey, Syria and Iran.
Drought stress commonly affects chickpea because it is largely grown under rainfed conditions during the postrainy season on residual soil moisture. Improved drought-tolerant chickpea cultivars are having major impact in India and Ethiopia. Collar rot, Fusarium wilt, dry root rot and Ascochyta blight are the most important diseases in the Indian subcontinent, whereas Ascochyta blight and Fusarium wilt are the most important worldwide.
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.