Chickpea is the world’s second-largest cultivated food legume. It is currently grown on over 11 million hectares in the Mediterranean, western Asia, South Asia, Australia and Sub-Saharan Africa, especially in Eastern and Southern Africa. World chickpea production is well over 9 million tonnes. 96% cultivation is in developing countries. India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of chickpea, accounting for over 66% of world production. Other major producers are Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, Myanmar, and Canada. Ethiopia and Kenya are the leading producers in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Chickpea is a dry-season legume that grows well on the residual moisture of the post-rainy season, providing a unique opportunity of enhancing legume production in developing countries as it does not compete for area with other major legumes. Indeed, this feature gives farmers a second crop (where only one crop would traditionally be grown), hence increased income and better nutrition.
Chickpea is nutritionally rich. It is an excellent source of high-quality protein, with a wide range of essential amino acids. It is high in dietary fiber and hence a healthy source of carbohydrates for persons with insulin sensitivity or diabetes. It is low in fat and most of this is polyunsaturated. It also provides dietary phosphorus, magnesium, iron and zinc. Its potential as both a human food as well as animal feed, coupled with its ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen, is attracting an increasing number of resource-poor farmers.
New cultivars that combine early maturity and disease resistance, especially the large-seeded kabuli, have been rapidly adopted in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Sudan and Kenya, leading to a 50% increase in cultivated acreage and a doubling of output over a thirty year period from 1977. Chickpea exports from Eastern Africa increased commensurately creating new income generation opportunities for farmers.