Market-driven chickpea innovations record many firsts in Africa and Asia.
To meet the growing global market demand for protein-rich chickpea, scientists have created new varieties that would contribute to greater nutrition security, health and climate resilience and replace existing obsolete varieties. In 2020, despite pandemic constraints, 10 new varieties (6 desi and 4 kabuli) were released through effective collaborations with National Agricultural Research Systems in Africa and Asia. The releases have recorded many firsts in terms of innovations in South and Southeast Asia and Eastern and Southern Africa – regions that together contribute to 73% of the global chickpea production (http://www.fao.org/faostat/).
In 2020, Malawi officially released its first chickpea varieties bred for high yield, climate resilience and nutrition, while an ascochyta blight-resistant, high-yielding desi variety was released in Ethiopia. In India, machine-harvestable chickpea made inroads into Central India as quicker harvest time saved the crop from unseasonal rain, while large-seeded kabuli varieties (39-45 g weight of 100 seed) commanding premium prices in global markets were bred to suit agro-ecologies across north, west, central and south India and provide a replacement for old varieties.
ICRISAT’s chickpea improvement research has a major focus in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) and South and Southeast Asia. The regions contribute to 73% and 93% of the total chickpea production in Africa and Asia respectively. Chickpea improvement research in these regions is primarily with public sector organizations. The private sector has shown interest in research and development of chickpea in recent years due to its increasing global demand as a nutritious pulse crop, its climate resilience, expansion and adaptability to new regions, increasing availability of value-added products and emerging opportunities for protein extraction.
ICRISAT has been working closely with research and development organizations, the seed sector and non-profit organizations contributing to the development and promotion of improved chickpea varieties to benefit smallholder farmers by enhancing climate resilience, food and nutrition security, and incomes. The 10 varieties (see table) released in 2020 bring the total number of chickpea releases from improved breeding materials developed by ICRISAT to 117 (73 in South and Southeast Asia, 41 in ESA, 2 in Australia and 1 in USA). These varieties have contributed significantly to increasing area, productivity and production of chickpea in central and southern India, Myanmar, Ethiopia and Tanzania.
The longstanding collaboration between Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and ICRISAT has resulted in the development of 50 improved chickpea varieties in India. These varieties have been instrumental in expanding chickpea area in central and southern India.
Chickpea varieties developed through ICAR-ICRISAT collaborations currently account for about 65% of the total demand for chickpea breeder seed in central and southern India. From 1981 to 2018, the chickpea production increased 6 times (from 1.29 million tons to 8.25 million tons) in central and southern India due to a threefold (2.43 million ha to 7.8 million ha) increase in area and doubling of productivity (530 kg/ha to 1058 kg/ha). Central and southern India is now a major chickpea-producing region of the world and, during 2018, contributed to 48% of global chickpea production and 73% of Indian chickpea production.
A high-yielding machine-harvestable desi chickpea variety ‘Eshete’ with high resistance to Ascochyta blight was released in Ethiopia by the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), Debre Zeit Agricultural Research Center (DZARC), Debre Zeit. In Malawi, three chickpea varieties, which included two desi types and one kabuli type were released. These are the first chickpea varieties released in the country (https://www.icrisat.org/malawi-officially-releases-its-first-improved-chickpea-and-finger-millet-varieties/). Dr NVPR Ganga Rao, Product Placement Lead, ICRISAT-Nairobi, played a key role in development of these varieties. The breeding lines supplied from ICRISAT-Hyderabad were first evaluated by him at ICRISAT-Nairobi and then he supplied selected lines to Malawi. Under leadership of Dr Patrick Okori, ICRISAT Country Representative for Malawi, these lines were evaluated by the Department of Agricultural Research Services in partnership with ICRISAT under the Malawi Seed Industry Development Project (MSIDP) for local adaptation and finally released through Agricultural Technology Clearing Committee of the Ministry of Agriculture, Malawi. These new chickpea varieties are expected to have high impacts on production of chickpea in Malawi due to their high yield potential and greater resilience to climate change.
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About the authors:
Dr Srinivasan Samineni, Senior Scientist, Chickpea Breeding, Research Program Asia, ICRISAT.
Dr Pooran Gaur, Director, Research Program Asia, ICRISAT.