Cicer arietinum (PROTA)
|Geographic coverage Africa|
|Geographic coverage World|
|Cereal / pulse|
|Dye / tannin|
|Forage / feed|
- Protologue: Sp. pl. 2: 738 (1753).
- Family: Papilionaceae (Leguminosae - Papilionoideae, Fabaceae)
- Chromosome number: 2n = 16
- Chickpea, Bengal gram, gram, garbanzo (En).
- Pois chiche (Fr).
- Grão de bico, gravanço, ervanço (Po).
- Mdengu (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Chickpea is not known in a wild state. Its origin is believed to be in south-eastern Turkey and adjoining Syria and Iran. The earliest remains of chickpea seeds date back to around 7000 BC (Syria and Turkey). Chickpea was gradually introduced to the western Mediterranean region, to eastern and southern Asia and East Africa. It reached the Indian subcontinent before 2000 BC. Chickpea cultivation is expanding where it has been recently introduced, e.g. in Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada. In tropical Africa it is mainly cultivated in East Africa (Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania) and in Malawi; it is grown particularly in areas with a marked cool season. Lesotho and South Africa have recently introduced chickpea at experimental level. Chickpea is found semi-naturalized as an escape, e.g. in Tanzania.
Chickpea is primarily grown for its mature seeds, which are used as human food. These are consumed alone or together with cereals as a side dish in the form of a sauce or soup. In Ethiopia sauces (‘wot’) made of ground seeds (‘shiro’) and split seeds (‘kik’) are commonly eaten with ‘injera’ (unleavened, pancake-like bread). Chickpea is also an ingredient of weaning foods. The immature seeds are consumed fresh, or roasted and salted as snacks. In India the whole dried seeds are eaten boiled or made into dhal, prepared by splitting the seed and separating the husk. In Mediterranean countries, chickpea is eaten whole in salads, or in stews, and flour mixed with sesame paste yields the well-known appetizer ‘hummus’. Canned chickpea seeds are popular in the United States and in Europe.
In India young chickpea sprouts are eaten as a vegetable. Broken seeds and residues from dhal production are used as feed, the straw serves as fodder and dried stems and roots are used as fuel for cooking. Chickpea starch is suitable for textile sizing, giving a light finish to silk, wool and cotton clothes, and can also be used in the manufacturing of plywood. An indigo-like dye is obtained from chickpea leaves.
Production and international trade
According to FAO statistics, the annual world production and harvested area of chickpea from 1961 to 2003 has remained relatively stable at around 7 million t and 10 million ha, respectively. The production in 1999–2003 amounted to 7.9 million t per year from 10.3 million ha. The main producing countries were India (4.1 million t per year from 6.3 million ha), Turkey (600,000 t from 600,000 ha), Pakistan (500,000 t from 1.1 million ha), Canada (250,000 t from 200,000 ha), Mexico (250,000 t from 150,000 ha) and Australia (200,000 t from 200,000 ha). The annual production in sub-Saharan Africa was about 280,000 t from 430,000 ha, the main producers being Ethiopia (168,000 t from 191,000 ha), Malawi (35,000 t from 88,000 ha), Sudan (25,000 t from 13,000 ha), Tanzania (25,000 t from 63,000 ha) and Kenya (20,000 t from 55,000 ha). In tropical Africa the area and production of chickpea have been increasing recently, whereas they are declining in northern Africa. The decline in Ethiopia was arrested and has been reversed due to the release of improved cultivars, liberalized markets and intensive extension activities. In Zambia chickpea is grown by commercial farmers around urban areas.
The world trade in chickpea steadily increased from 100,000–150,000 t per year in the 1970s to about 700,000 t per year in 1998–2002. The main exporters in 1998–2002 were Australia (192,000 t per year), Mexico (155,000 t), Turkey (114,000 t), Canada (85,000 t) and Iran (75,000 t). Ethiopia exported about 50,000 t in 2002, but insignificant amounts in 1998–2001. Tanzania exported about 20,000 t in 2002 and less than 10,000 t per year in 1998–2001. The main importers in this period were India (183,000 t per year), Pakistan (98,000 t), Spain (57,000 t), Algeria (43,000 t) and Bangladesh (40,000 t). Imports into sub-Saharan Africa were very low.
The composition of mature raw chickpea seeds per 100 g edible portion is: water 11.5 g, energy 1525 kJ (364 kcal), protein 19.3 g, fat 6.0 g, carbohydrate 60.7 g, dietary fibre 17.4 g, Ca 105 mg, Mg 115 mg, P 366 mg, Fe 6.2 mg, Zn 3.4 mg, vitamin A 67 IU, thiamin 0.48 mg, riboflavin 0.21 mg, niacin 1.5 mg, vitamin B6 0.54 mg, folate 557 μg and ascorbic acid 4.0 mg. The essential amino-acid composition per 100 g edible portion is: tryptophan 185 mg, lysine 1291 mg, methionine 253 mg, phenylalanine 1034 mg, threonine 716 mg, valine 809 mg, leucine 1374 mg and isoleucine 828 mg. The principal fatty acids are per 100 g edible portion: linoleic acid 2593 mg, oleic acid 1346 mg, palmitic acid 501 mg, linolenic acid 101 mg and stearic acid 85 mg (USDA, 2004). The protein content of chickpeas is lower than that of most other pulses, but this is compensated for by the higher protein digestibility. Antinutritional factors include trypsin inhibitors, haemagglutinins, tannins and oligosaccharides.
Adulterations and substitutes
In India chickpea is sometimes adulterated with the cheaper, but potentially toxic, grass pea (Lathyrus sativus L.).
- Spreading to erect, annual herb up to 100 cm tall; stem simple or branched from the base; taproot reaching 1–2 m depth, secondary roots mostly spreading in the top 15–30 cm soil layer.
- Leaves alternate, imparipinnate, with (7–)11–15(–17) leaflets; stipules 2–5-fid, ovate to triangular, 3–5 mm × 2–4 mm; rachis 2.5–8 cm long, grooved above; leaflets sessile, ovate to elliptical, 5–20 mm × 2–15 mm, the upper two-thirds of the margins sharply toothed, glandular pubescent on both sides.
- Inflorescence reduced to a single axillary flower; peduncle 3–20(–37) mm long; bracts 1–3, linear to triangular, up to 3 mm long.
- Flowers bisexual, papilionaceous; pedicel 3–12 mm long, recurved at fruiting; calyx campanulate, tube 3–4 mm long, teeth lanceolate, 4–5 mm long, with prominent midribs; corolla white, pink, purplish or blue, standard obovate, 8–10 mm × 7–10(–17) mm, with a broad claw, wings obovate, 6–9 mm × c. 4 mm, auriculate, keel 6–8 mm × c. 3 mm with a 2–3 mm long claw; stamens 10, 9 united for 4–5 mm and 1 free, anthers basi-dorsifixed; ovary superior, sessile, ovate, 2–3 mm × 1–1.5 mm, 1-celled, style incurved, 3–4 mm long, stigma small.
- Fruit an inflated rhomboid-ellipsoid pod 12–35 mm × 8–20 mm, densely glandular pubescent, 1–2(–4)-seeded.
- Seeds globular to angular obovoid, 5–14 mm × 4–10 mm, with a median groove and a conspicuous beak overhanging the hilum, creamy to brown, green or black, surface smooth or wrinkled.
- Seedling with hypogeal germination; the first two leaves scale-like.
Other botanical information
Cicer comprises 43 species, 9 annual and 34 perennial. The wild Cicer species most closely related to Cicer arietinum are the annuals Cicer reticulatum Ladiz. and Cicer echinospermum P.H.Davis. Cicer reticulatum, a rare species from Turkey, is sometimes regarded as a subspecies of Cicer arietinum; it is morphologically, biochemically and karyologically very similar and completely cross-compatible. Fertile hybrids have also been produced in crosses of chickpea and Cicer echinospermum, though fertility barriers do exist. Other related species are Cicer bijugum Rech.f., Cicer chorassanicum (Bunge) Popov, Cicer cuneatum Hochst. ex A.Rich., Cicer judaicum Boiss., Cicer pinnatifidum Jaub. & Spach, Cicer yamashitae Kitam. (all annuals) and Cicer anatolicum Alef. (a perennial), and some of these have been used for crossing with cultivated chickpea.
Within cultivated chickpea 2 main groups are commonly discerned: the large-seeded, cream-coloured Kabuli types and the small-seeded, darker-coloured, smooth or wrinkled Desi types. Some intermediate cultivars also exist. Desi-type chickpeas are bushy plants with relatively small leaflets and flowers, purplish anthocyanin pigments in their stems and blue-violet flowers, and are primarily grown in southern Asia and Ethiopia. The Kabuli types have erect growth and white flowers and are grown in the Mediterranean region. Cultivars of the Kabuli type cook faster and have less dietary fibre than those of the Desi type. Seed colour is an important characteristic of chickpea, determining its quality and acceptance in many countries. In East Africa brown Desi chickpeas are most popular.
Growth and development
Seedlings normally emerge 7–15 days after sowing. Flowering starts after 30–60 days. Chickpea is self-pollinated, with less than 2% out-crossing. The crop duration is normally 3–6 months, but chickpea is indeterminate by nature and may continue to grow as long as moisture is not limiting. The deep, strong taproot serves as a water-storage organ for the growing plants, extending growth into the dry season. Chickpea is effectively nodulated by Mesorhizobium ciceri and Mesorhizobium mediterraneum.
Chickpea is cultivated in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate zones. Its production is concentrated in the cool, dry season of the semi-arid tropics. It grows from sea-level to over 2500 m altitude, but it is not suitable for the humid and hot lowland tropics, where it often fails to flower. In East Africa it is grown at 1200–2700 m altitude, in areas with an annual rainfall of 500–1800 mm and an average temperature of 10–25°C during the growing period. Under these conditions the crop takes 120–150 days to mature. It performs well when planted during the rainy season provided that the field is well drained, but humidity favours the development of ascochyta blight. Rain during flowering hampers seed set. The drought tolerance varies from moderate to considerable. Chickpea is generally a quantitative long-day plant. Soils need to be well drained, with pH 5–7 or more. Salinity is hardly tolerated, if at all. Soils vary from sandy to sandy loam and black cotton soils. In Ethiopia and Kenya chickpea is mainly grown towards the end of the rainy season on black cotton soils with declining soil moisture.
Propagation and planting
Chickpea is propagated by seed. Seed can be stored for 4–5 years at a temperature of 4°C. The 1000-seed weight varies widely, from 20 g for some Desi types, to more than 600 g for the larger Kabuli types. Seed does not show dormancy. Because of the large variation in seed size, seed rates may range from 30–40 kg/ha for small-seeded cultivars to 90–100 kg/ha for large-seeded ones. In East Africa the seeds are broadcast and then ploughed under by animal-drawn ploughs. In southern Asia spacings of 25–30 cm between rows and 10–30 cm between plants in a row are common. Chickpea is grown as a sole crop or in intercropping with linseed, sorghum or other crops. It is often sown as a relay crop, e.g. in rice paddies.
Chickpea is very sensitive to weed competition, especially in the first 4–6 weeks after sowing. Weed control is usually by mechanical methods. The weed population can be high if the crop receives late rains after sowing and in that case immediate weeding is required. The use of P-fertilizer high in S is recommended, but normally no inorganic fertilizers are applied. Some farmers in Sudan apply 100 kg diammonium phosphate (DAP) per ha. In Sudan and in India chickpea is sometimes grown under irrigation. In Ethiopia chickpea is grown in rotation with cereals, mainly tef (Eragrostis tef (Zuccagni) Trotter); in India it is also grown in rotation with cereals, including pearl millet, sorghum, wheat, barley and rice.
Diseases and pests
The most important chickpea disease worldwide is ascochyta blight caused by the seed-borne Ascochyta rabiei, but this disease is of lesser importance in Ethiopia, except when chickpea is sown early in the rainy season. Important diseases in Ethiopia, Sudan and Eritrea are fusarium wilt caused by Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. ciceris, dry root rot caused by Macrophomina phaseolina (Rhizoctonia bataticola), and collar rot caused by Sclerotium rolfsii. Control measures against the seed- and soil-borne fusarium wilt include the use of seed from disease-free plants, seed treatment with fungicides, and the use of resistant cultivars. Crop rotation is not effective, because the fungus survives in the soil for long periods. Control measures for dry root rot and collar rot include the use of disease-free seed, the removal of crop residues and the elimination of weed hosts. Effective control with crop rotation is difficult, because both pathogens have a wide host range. Resistance to Macrophomina phaseolina has been observed, but the disease may affect even resistant cultivars if these are grown in infected soil for a long period.
Root-knot nematode (Meloidogyne javanica) is an important parasite of chickpea. Pod borer (Helicoverpa armigera) and cutworm (Agrotis ipsilon) are common insect pests on chickpea in East Africa and India. Insecticides such as endosulfan are recommended for the control of these insects. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices, including tolerant cultivars, pest population monitoring, bio-pesticides and natural enemies, have been developed to reduce the reliance on insecticides. Callosobruchus spp. are important storage insects in chickpea.
Mature seeds are harvested when the pod tips of the uppermost branch of the plant turn yellow. Harvesting is done manually by pulling the plants, after which they are sun-dried in the field. Where chickpea is machine-harvested, a tall and erect plant type is preferred.
The average yield of chickpea is less than 1 t/ha in sub-Saharan Africa, except under irrigation in Sudan, where average yields up to 1.9 t/ha are obtained. In the Central Highlands of Ethiopia, farmers harvest over 2 t/ha due to a favourable growing environment, while research shows a potential yield up to 5.5 t/ha in this area. The average yield of chickpea in India is also less than 1 t/ha.
Handling after harvest
When the harvested pods have been sun-dried to a moisture content of 12–13%, they are taken to the threshing ground. In Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan, threshing is done by trampling using draught animals. Small harvests are threshed by beating with sticks. Seeds are separated from the chaff by winnowing. The cleaned seeds are kept in stores or taken to the market. Bruchid attack makes storage for more than 6 months difficult. Ethiopian farmers mix chickpea with tef to keep the seeds for a longer period. Seed for planting may be protected with pyrethrine insecticides.
ICRISAT (Patancheru, India) has a collection of about 17,000 chickpea accessions, from which a representative core collection of 1956 accessions has been formed. Other large collections are kept by ICARDA (Aleppo, Syria, about 10,000 accessions) and in Australia (Australian Temperate Field Crops Collection, Horsham, 7700 accessions) and the United States (USDA-ARS Western Regional Plant Introduction Station, Pullman, Washington, 4400 accessions). ICRISAT and ICARDA have 58 and 268 accessions of wild Cicer species, respectively. Many species from Central Asia are not yet represented in the collections. In Ethiopia, which is considered a secondary centre of diversity for chickpea, the Institute of Biodiversity Conservation has the largest collection (of about 1000 accessions) in Africa. Chickpea shows orthodox seed storage behaviour and can be stored for long periods without loss of viability. For long-term storage a temperature of –20°C is used.
Genetic improvement of chickpea aims at higher yield and resistance to diseases, insects and other stresses such as drought, waterlogging and cold. Sources of resistance/tolerance have been identified for diseases (including ascochyta blight, fusarium wilt and dry root rot), insect pests (including pod borer) and abiotic stress factors (including cold and drought). Cultivars have been released with resistance to ascochyta blight, fusarium wilt and cold, but limited success has been attained in the development of cultivars tolerant to insect pests. Conventional breeding techniques for self-pollinated crops are used in chickpea breeding. Mutation breeding has been carried out to create new variability, e.g. for ascochyta blight resistance. Wild Cicer species have been used in interspecific hybridization programmes, but few perennials have been tried for use in chickpea improvement. Chickpea crossing techniques are tedious. Within the CGIAR system ICARDA and ICRISAT are involved in chickpea breeding. The only substantial national chickpea programmes in the sub-Saharan region are those of Ethiopia and Sudan, which have made much progress in developing high-yielding and disease-resistant cultivars for commercial production. In Ethiopia 10 cultivars (5 each from Kabuli and Desi types) were released and more than 7 cultivars were promoted by extension for multiplication. Kenya so far released one cultivar from germplasm received from ICRISAT.
Linkage maps of chickpea have been developed, and molecular markers associated with quantitative trait loci for resistance to ascochyta blight, fusarium wilt and various morphological traits have been located on these maps. Transgenic chickpea plants, e.g. showing inhibitory effects on development of Callosobruchus spp. due to an α -amylase inhibitory gene from common bean, or inhibitory effects on the growth on larvae of Helicoverpa armigera due to gene transfer from Bacillus thuringiensis, have been obtained using Agrobacterium -mediated gene transfer or biolistic transformation.
Chickpea is a very suitable crop for the semi-arid regions of Africa, due to its moderate to high drought tolerance. Chickpea production in the North African countries is declining due to its low yield compared to cereals. Therefore, countries elsewhere in Africa, such as Ethiopia, Sudan and Tanzania, may increase their production to take advantage of the markets in North Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Chickpea is one of the main pulses providing affordable protein for the Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Sudanese populations, whereas more promotion is required in Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi. In Zimbabwe, Uganda, South Africa and Lesotho chickpea trials, received from ICARDA and ICRISAT, have recently been started. The development of new food products and recipes will help to increase chickpea consumption in sub-Saharan Africa.
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Sources of illustration
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Correct citation of this article
Bejiga, G. & van der Maesen, L.J.G., 2006. Cicer arietinum L. In: Brink, M. & Belay, G. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 13 November 2020.
- See the Prota4U database.