Chickpea farmers have adopted new varieties to achieve commercialisation, say scientists

The use of improved crop varieties has created a credible pathway to commercialization for subsistence farmers in Ethiopia.

Researchers from World Agroforestry (ICRAF) and the Institute for Food and Resource Economics at the University of Bonn, Germany, who studied chickpea ( Cicer arietinum) farmers, contend that this transition can be replicated in other developing countries where small-scale farmers struggle to commercialise production owing to poor access to technology such as high yielding crop varieties. The team’s study was published in the journal, European Review of Agricultural Economics. The research adds to solutions for one of CIFOR-ICRAF’s key challenges: broken food systems.

The revelation is a key pointer for development initiatives, which have pushed for ways to strike a seamless transition of smallholder agriculture from subsistence to market orientation over the last few decades, with most policy environments aiming for the production and commercialisation of high-value products for domestic and export markets.

Smallholders are too often left behind by market-driven policies as these tend to require increased volumes and high-value cash crops that are the domain for larger-scale commercial farmers.

The research team found that the adoption of improved varieties led to improved production and market participation among smallholders, such as those involved in chickpeas production in Ethiopia where the crop has been identified as ‘promising’ for achieving the transition of small-scale producers to a more market-oriented and profitable farming system.

Previous work found that the adoption of improved chickpea varieties has indeed increased the welfare levels of households, with the adoption process mainly driven by significantly higher returns for these varieties , which made them attractive and helped their widespread adoption. The varieties also already had good market access, which further encouraged their adoption.

Most studies in Africa have focused on market-access factors, such as infrastructure or reliable connections to buyers, as the key barriers to commercialisation for smallholders.

This research now confirms that smallholders’ commercialisation depends not only on an efficient market but can also be supported through improved varieties and other ‘production shifters’ that are often designed to increase profitability and productivity.

Chickpeas in pods. Photo: Eitan Ferman/Wiki public domain

Chickpeas in pods. Photo: Eitan Ferman/Wiki public domain

This study highlights that links with, and ease of access to, output markets play critical facilitating roles in this process and should therefore be explicitly considered in future efforts to scale the varieties to more farmers, write the authors of the study. The improved profits and welfare outcomes facilitated by the commercialisation of production are critical ingredients of a ‘recipe for success’.

Ethiopia ranks first in Africa in chickpea production with a share of about 51 percent in area and 70 percent in production, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

The country has identified chickpeas as an emerging export crop among the different legumes grown, focusing on two types of chickpeas: the more recently introduced improved ‘kabuli’ varieties and the traditional and widely used ‘desi’ varieties.

Kabuli chickpeas (also known as ‘garbanzo’) are larger in size, creamy white in colour and command a higher market price whereas the smaller desi chickpeas are reddish-brown and relatively cheaper.

Improved chickpeas are more attractive based on superior returns driven by market preferences and various desirable traits, such as resistance to drought and diseases, such as fusarium wilt and ascochyta blight.

As a leguminous staple crop usually cultivated in rotation with cereals such as teff, barley and wheat, chickpeas provide an important source of protein for households, especially those that cannot afford expensive livestock products.

It also has low water demand and matures early, making it viable in areas of land scarcity as a second crop using residual moisture. The crop also helps fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil, which can be used by other cereal crops, such as teff and wheat. This increased soil fertility can reduce the use of chemical fertilisers, preventing potentially adverse effects on the environment.

This story is originally published on ICRAF Blog.

Feature image: Chickpea plant. Photo: Nundhaa/Creative Commons Share Alike 4.0

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