Chickpeas: The Future of Farming?

Chickpeas: The Future of Farming?

An Ethiopian chickpea farmer

After spending much time reading and researching the intensification of factory farming as part of my work with Brighter Green, it is refreshing and heartening to see articles about growth in more sustainable areas of agriculture. A recent page in National Geographic entitled “Future of Food” featured chickpeas prominently among other foods, including bug protein and potatoes. But the magazine is not alone–chickpeas have long been known to be excellent sources of protein and nutrition.

Small, round-shaped legumes also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas–with twice the protein of corn and four times the fibre of brown rice–have featured prominently in my upbringing as a vegetarian child in an Indian family. In Indian cuisine, chickpeas can be incorporated into practically every meal–as cooked and mixed chana for breakfast or a snack, chola in tomato, onion, and masala curry with bhatura (a soft deep-fried bread) for lunch or dinner, or as a savory part of chaat. In fact, my health-conscious parents have started bringing little boxes of raw chickpeas in mustard oil–known as the food of hard-labor construction workers in India looking for endurance and energy–with them to work. (This popularity is reflected in India’s status as the number one chickpea producing nation in the world according to FAO. Although chickpeas are produced in fifty countries worldwide, India far exceeds the production and import of any other nation).

Historically, the problem with cultivating chickpeas has been their susceptibility to disease and spoilage. But new varieties of chickpeas developed with crop research institutes like Icrisat and Eiar have proven to be hardier and even life-changing for farmers such as these Ethiopians covered in a Guardian photospread in March. Last September, Reuters covered PepsiCo’s intention to partner with small Ethiopian farmers to supply the chickpeas required for its Sabra hummus brand. Pepsi representatives cited this as the perfect combination of profit margins with humanitarian support, but it remains to be seen how much Ethiopians benefit from the support domestically. A prime concern is how to channel the shift to nutritional non-meat sources to primarily benefit smallholders rather than multinational corporations.

A focus on sustainable and hardy methods of farming less globally popular crops like chickpeas could help alleviate food crises and keep soils healthy (chickpeas enrich soil with nitrogen, allowing farmers to use less fertilizer.) But chickpea cultivation must be developed to alleviate hunger and poverty resulting from problems of food security in nations like Ethiopia instead of further stressing those countries’ natural resources to satisfy international demand.

For more information on Ethiopia’s food security and growth, take a look at Brighter Green’s policy paper linked here or video analyses of Ethiopian agriculture and factory farming here.

Photo courtesy of Alina/Flickr