Chickpea (En), Pois chiche (Fr);
Cicer arietinum L.


Image - Chickpea

Production and distribution

Chickpea is a cool season food legume crop grown on >10 million ha in 45 countries of the world. Average annual chickpea area is >16,000 ha in each of the 23 most important chickpea-growing countries. Chickpea is either the first or the second most important, rainfed, cool season food legume, grown mainly by small farmers in the semi-arid tropics (SAT) and West Asia and North Africa (WANA) regions. The crop is also grown in southern and eastern Africa (particularly important in Ethiopia), Europe, the Americas and, more recently, Australia. World production is 7 million tonnes. International trade in chickpeas has increased over the years.

Origin and uses

Chickpea, a temperate crop, probably originated in south-eastern Turkey and spread to other parts of the world. Crop improvement efforts have improved adaptation of chickpea to warmer conditions in the subtropics. The two most common types of chickpea, are the white-seeded "Kabuli" and the "Desi". Kabuli types are mostly grown in WANA, the Americas, and Europe, while the desi types predominate in Asia, parts of Africa, and Australia. Chickpea is an important source of protein in the diets of the poor in the SAT and WANA regions, and is particularly important in vegetarian diets. Also, it is being used increasingly as a substitute for animal protein.


Chickpea is an annual plant with plant height ranging between 30-70 cm, but tall types with >1.0 m in height are cultivated in the erstwhile USSR. The foliage is covered with glandular hairs which secrete highly acidic exudates, and is considered important in conferring tolerance to insect pests, such as the pod borer. Leaves are compound, arranged in an alternate phyllotary, and generally inparipinnate with 11 to 13 leaflets. Flowers are axillary, solitary, or in inflorescence of two or three. They are white, pink, purplish, or blue in color. The plant has a deep root system and is considered a hardy crop. It produces nodules in common with other legumes, and is efficient in fixing atmospheric nitrogen (N) in a plant-usable form through biological nitrogen fixation (BNF). The crop is highly efficient in uptake of phosphorus (P) from soils containing low amounts of available P. ICRISAT maintains >17,000 germplasm accessions in its genebank consisting of annual and perennial species, some of which (135 accessions) are the wild ancestors of present day cultivated species. Samples are available on request. A set of chickpea germplasm is also maintained at International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Syria.

Cultivation and adaptation

Chickpea is grown mostly as a rainfed, postrainy season, winter crop in subtropical south Asia, parts of Africa, and Australia. It is a spring season crop in the temperate and mediterranean types of climates. In traditional production systems of Asia and Africa it was grown as an intercrop, but in recent years it is mostly cultivated as a sole crop. In low input traditional production systems chickpea has been a preferred crop because of its minimal dependence on monetary inputs of N and P-containing fertilizers, irrigation, and agrochemicals in general. Chickpea is known to confer contribute to sustainability to cropping systems.

Research thrust

There is a large gap in the potential (around 3.0 to 5.0 t ha-1) and realizable yield (world average 0.7 t ha-1) of chickpea. Also, the genetic yield potential of the crop seems to have reached ceiling levels in the last two to three decades. This offers large scope for improvement and stability of yield. At ICRISAT, we are trying to close this yield gap and improve the adaptation of the crop in niches that emerge with new cropping systems. ICRISAT chickpea research is conducted under the Chickpea improvement project which focuses on six thematic areas of research as subprojects. These are:

  • abiotic stress alleviation
  • biotic stress alleviation
  • germplasm diversification and enhancement
  • improved technologies for Asian
  • improved technologies for SEA
  • improved technologies for Latin American countries (LAC)

The major thrust is on strategic research, covered under the first three subprojects. Subproject one addresses physical stresses (drought, and extremes of temperature tolerance cold and heat). Research on opportunities for increasing BNF benefits to increase chickpea yield, and its contribution to sustainability of production systems are also included in this subproject.

Constraints of foliar (including stunt virus disease) and soilborne diseases and insect pests of chickpea, major constraints on yield and factors contributing to yield instability, are studied under the second subproject. The research thrust is on the development of intermediary products, combining high yield with multiple stress resistance. These products are provided to national agricultural research systems (NARS) scientists to select and release elite materials as varieties in their national programs. Significant progress has been made in overcoming the soilborne disease fusarium wilt, and in combining resistance to three diseases (fusarium wilt, dry root rot and stunt/ascochyta blight). ICRISAT also works on ecofriendly integrated disease management (IDM) and integrated pest management (IPM) practices in chickpea to effectively manage the stresses for which levels of resistances are low in the germplasm.

Strategic research on genetic enhancement of germplasm, including use of molecular biological tools to understand the genetic basis of resistance, is conducted in subproject 3. This knowledge will be used to incorporate and enhance resistance to diseases, insect pests, and for breaching the yield ceiling.

Projects 4, 5 and 6 concentrate on research targeted on chickpea growing needs of the three ecoregions of Asia, SEA, and LAC. ICRISAT collaborates with its NARS partners in helping them produce high-yielding and stress-resistant varieties through supply of intermediary products of breeding to NARS in these target regions.


ICRISAT works in close partnership with other international agricultural research centers (IARCs) under the CGIAR, advanced research institutes (ARIs); and NARS, in overcoming major constraints to chickpea production in the ICRISAT mandate region, and in collaboration with ICARDA in its mandate region of WANA. It endeavors to strengthen the existing linkages and is interested in identifying new partners.


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