By Zenebe Woruk Woldeyes, Tewodros Tefera Ameda and Sheleme Beyene Jiru
Pulses occupy about 12% of cropland in Ethiopia and are the second most important staple in the national diet after cereals. As a nutritious legume crop, chickpea has the potential to improve both soil health and human nutrition. Performing well on residual moisture, chickpea also allows farmers to harvest two crops in a growing season (cereal followed by chickpea), thus boosting their food supply and income. Unfortunately, however, chickpea varieties available in Ethiopia have traditionally been low yielding, and poor access to high quality, improved seed has prevented many farmers from adopting the crop and maximising potential.
Between September 2010 and March 2013, scientists and crop breeders from Hawassa University and the University of Saskatchewan identified four high yielding varieties of chickpea which offer twice the grain and biomass yield of traditional varieties. However, one critical question remained: “how to accelerate large-scale adoption of these varieties in order to reach more farmers, particularly women, and provide greater household food security and income?”
In response, the researchers working through the PACT project (Promoting Adoption of Chickpea Technology) have identified new areas in the highlands of Ethiopia as potential sites for chickpea seed multiplication. Following this, thousands of farmers have registered to access improved seeds to expand chickpea production. This is very encouraging as southern Ethiopia is not a region where the Ethiopian government had expected chickpea to be viable.
In addition, a unique research and extension approach which addresses other bottlenecks, such as poor management practices, high production costs and low productivity, is being tested. Identified best practices, along with multiplied seed varieties, will support subsequent mass expansion of chickpea production, through promotion by district, zonal and regional agricultural extension services.