Researchers in Malawi are optimistic of proposing the release of three new high-yielding and stress-resistant chickpea varieties next year. The aim is to cater to the needs of farmers in the southeastern districts who are increasingly growing chickpea for its high value in Asian markets and low water consumption as a crop. Despite its economic significance there is no released chickpea variety in Malawi, forcing farmers to grow traditional varieties that are low-yielding and susceptible to stress.
To speed up the release of improved chickpea varieties, ICRISAT, through the Irish Aid-funded Malawi Seed Industry Development Project, is engaging farmers in participatory testing and selection. Three varieties (ICCV 2, ICCV 96329 and ICCV 97105) were selected and they will be fast-tracked for release together with the development of associated agronomic packages. The variety ICCV 2 matured 8-10 days earlier than the rest of the test materials. Gender played a big role in influencing the choice of varieties, whereby 36% of the participating women selected ICCV 2 for its early-maturing trait. Women were mainly interested in the maturity duration as opposed to men whose focus was on seed size and yield.
Malawi’s Department of Agricultural Research Services, in collaboration with ICRISAT, is optimistic that by next year they will have enough data to propose the release of the three varieties. “Participatory variety selection needs to be conducted for two consecutive years. This is the first year and so far there is good progress as there is consistency in farmers’ choice of varieties across all the chickpea production districts,” said Mr Harvey Charlie, Senior Scientific Officer, ICRISAT.
Chickpea is an important cash crop grown mostly in the shire highlands of Malawi. Major producing districts include Phalombe, Chiradzulo, Mulanje and Thyolo which boast of black soils. Malawi is ranked 14th within the group of 58 major chickpea producers in the world.
Chickpea is mainly exported to Asian countries and minimally utilized in local households. A high market value for chickpea, coupled with its ability to survive on residual soil moisture, has resulted in more farmers opting for it. “We plant chickpea after harvesting other crops like sweet potato since it does not require a lot of water. This is good for farmers like us who own very small landholdings,” said Ms Emily Mateyu a smallholder farmer in Phalombe district, who grows chickpea in a 0.3 ha piece of land. In Phalombe most farmers own less than 0.5 ha of land, as tea plantations cover almost half of the total arable land.
Farmers engaged in the participatory testing of improved chickpea varieties showcased the harvest from their trial plots on field days held during 19-22 June, in four different demonstration fields, each managed by 20 farmers. A total of 358 farmers, local leaders, researchers and extension personnel participated in the field days.