Cicer arietinum (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Cicer arietinum L.

Protologue: Sp. Pl. ed. 1: 738 (1753).
Family: Leguminosae
Chromosome number: 2n= 16, but 14, 24, 32, 33 have also been reported.

Vernacular names

  • Chickpea, Bengal gram, garbanzo bean (En)
  • pois chiche (Fr)
  • Indonesia: kacang arab, kacang kuda
  • Thailand: thua hua chang.

Origin and geographic distribution

Chickpea originated in S.-E. Anatolia (Turkey) and reached the Indian subcontinent before 2000 BC. India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Turkey and Mexico have the largest areas under chickpea. Around the Mediterranean and in the Middle East local production is important. In S.-E. Asia chickpeas are only occasionally grown in areas with a dry season.


Chickpea is mainly consumed as dry pulse. Green pods are shelled for the peas and eaten as snack or vegetable. The seed husks are used for stock and bird feed.

Production and international trade

Chickpea is grown on 10 million ha of which 74.5% in India and 1.7% in Burma. World production is 5 615 000 t/year with India, Pakistan, Mexico, Ethiopia and Turkey as largest producers. In production the chickpea is the third non-oilseed grain legume in the world, after Phaseolus beans and peas.


Dry seeds contain per 100 g edible portion: water 7 - 11 g, protein 12-31 g, fat 4-10 g, carbohydrates 58-68 g, fibre 3-5 g, ash 2-5 g. Energetic value averages 1520 kJ/100 g. Kabuli cultivars cook faster and have less dietary fibre than Desi cultivars with coloured seed coat. Fresh and sprouted seeds contribute Vitamin C to the diet. Seed weight varies between 5 and 75 g/100 seeds.


  • A branched annual with conspicuous acid-producing glandular hairs, usually 20-60(-100) cm tall with straight or bent stems; roots reaching 1-2 m deep, well-nodulated.
  • Leaves alternate, with 11-15 toothed leaflets; leaflets ovate to elliptic, 6-20 mm x 3-14 mm.
  • Inflorescences 1(-2) flowered racemes; pedicels recurved when fruiting; flowers papilionaceous; corolla white, pink to purplish (fading to blue) or blue.
  • Fruit an inflated rhomboid-ellipsoid pod, 14-29 mm x 8 -20 mm with 1-2(-4) seeds.
  • Seed globular to angular obovoid with conspicuous beak, creamy to brown, green or black, surface smooth or wrinkled.
  • Seedlings emerge 7-14 days after sowing, germination is hypogeal, the first two leaves are simple scales.

First flowering in less than a month for short-duration cultivars under long days, strict self- pollination. The crop matures in a month, the crop cycle takes less than 90 to about 180 days. Two or three large cultivar-groups can be discerned: the large-seeded, cream-coloured, wrinkled Kabuli's; the small-seeded, darker- coloured, smooth or wrinkled Desi; and some intermediate cultivars.


Chickpeas are long-day cool-season plants, and grow in semi- arid conditons on residual moisture. Drought resistance varies from moderate to considerable. In the Mediterranean daylengths are increasing, in India decreasing during season. Optimum temperatures range from 15-29°C. Mild winter or spring rains during the vegetative stage are advantageous, rainstorms during flowering harm the crop, hence monsoon seasons are unsuitable. Soils need to be well-drained, pH 5-7 or higher, salinity is hardly or not tolerated. Soils vary from sandy to sandy loam and black cotton soils.


Propagation is by seed, rates vary from 30-50 kg/ha, optimum plant population is about 33 plants/m2. Chickpea is mainly a crop for smallholders, but for export large estates exist in Ethiopia, Spain and Turkey. Spacing varies from 30-60 cm between rows and is ca. 10 cm between plants. Intercropping and sole cropping are practised. As a rotation crop chickpea is ideal. Weed control and sparse irrigation favour chickpeas. Cultivars are rarely responsive to fertilizers but 30-50 kg/ha phosphates maintain soil fertility; starter nitrogen at 40 kg/ha may be useful. Heliothis podborers and Agromyza podflies are the main pests; Ascochyta blight, Fusarium wilt and stunt virus (pea leaf roll) are the major diseases. Application of insecticides and fungicides is effective but often uneconomic. For harvest entire plants are pulled up and threshed, tall erect cultivars may be combine-harvested. Yield averages 600-700 kg/ha, but may be doubled with proper care and conditions. In Burma yield varies around 630 kg/ha. Storage suffers from bruchid attack, sanitation is required.

Genetic resources and breeding

ICRISAT near Hyderabad, India and ICARDA near Aleppo, Syria, and many national institutions conserve large germplasm collections. The chickpea has 42 wild relatives, of which 8 annual ones, from the Mediterranean area to Central Asia. Only Cicer reticulatum Ladiz. (= C. arietinum var. reticulatum (Ladiz.) Cubero & Moreno) produces viable hybrids with chickpea. Breeding is directed towards high-yielding, disease-resistant cultivars. Yield potential is high, 2 000-4 000 kg/ha, but does not materialize under poor conditions.


In general chickpeas are pushed to marginal conditions; despite its adaptability, average yields have not increased. In Indonesia and the Philippines the crop is under experimentation. Chickpea is suited to relatively cool post-monsoon seasons. Rainy season crops only produce vegetative matter suitable for fodder. For seed production in S.-E. Asia the cultivars from Sudan and Egypt may prove valuable.


  • Saxena, M.C. & Singh, K.B. (Editors), 1987. The Chickpea CAB International. ICARDA, Oxon. 409 pp.
  • Singh, K.B. & van der Maesen, L.J.G., 1977. Chickpea bibliography 1930 to 1974. 3146 refs.


  • L.J.G. van der Maesen