Environment News Service (ENS)

New Chickpea Helps Turkish Farmers Adapt to Global Warming


Source: Environment News Service (ENS)

ALEPPO, Syria, September 4, 2007 (ENS) - The chickpea, one of the plants with the highest amount of protein, is a staple of Turkish food - enjoyed as a dip called hummus, roasted as a snack food called leblebi, often thrown into a soup or tossed onto a salad.

But Turkish farmers have been enduring a severe drought for several years, which has caused their crops to fail.

Now a new chickpea variety that can withstand drought and still produce a high yield has been developed by scientists with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, ICARDA, based in Aleppo, working with Turkish scientists in an ongoing collaboration.

Gokce is a variety of the kabuli type of chickpea, with light-colored, larger seeds and a smoother coat than the darker, smaller desi type.

The Gokce variety is not only drought tolerant but also has moderate tolerance to Ascochyta blight, a disease that devastates chickpea crops. In most areas of Turkey's Central Anatolia region, where wheat, barley, and other crops have failed, Gokce's yield still is high.

'Work on developing this variety began in 1984-85 as part of an international yield trial,' says Dr. R.S. Malhotra, senior chickpea breeder at ICARDA. 'Gokce was released for field trials in Turkey in 1991.'

The field trials were a success, so the Exporters' Union Seed and Research Company, ITAS, a non-profit organization set up by agricultural exporters of Turkey, introduced Gokce to Turkish growers in 1997.

Ismail Kusmenoglu, general manager of ITAS, said, 'The results of field trials were excellent and we got the variety registered.'

ITAS initiated an Integrated Technology Transfer Project in 1997 and planted 1,400 kilograms of foundation seed in Konya in the Central Anatolia region in the spring of 1998.

The seed was then distributed to growers in 2000.

Turkey is one of the largest exporters of kabuli chickpeas in the world and Turkish farmers have embraced the new Gokce variety because of its large seed size and tolerance for drought and Ascochyta blight.

Since 2000, roughly 150 tons of certified seed has been provided to farmers. As Gokce cultivation expanded, the average yield of chickpeas per hectare has increased from 861 kilograms in 2000 to 1,071 kilograms in 2006.

During all this time, the Central Anatolia region has remained central to Turkish chickpea cultivation. Chickpeas are now grown on some 600,000 hectares in Turkey, nearly two-thirds of which is in the Central Anatolia region.

Central Anatolia chickpea farmers say that their yields remain high, while other crops have been badly hit by the current drought. The Central Anatolian region has borne the worst of the drought that cost the Turkish agricultural industry about 5 billion Turkish Lira (US$ 4 billion) last year, according to a report by the Turkish Union of Agricultural Chambers issued in August.

Under the national Law on Combating Agricultural Drought, promulgated on August 7, the government plans to address the issue, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has that combating drought is one of his top priorities. He might well look to the Gokce chickpea for one solution.

ICARDA, based in Aleppo, is a non-profit international agricultural research center in a worldwide consortium of 15 centers, supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, an alliance of countries, international and regional organizations, and private foundations.

In the Central and West Asia and North Africa region, ICARDA is responsible for the improvement of durum and bread wheats, chickpea, pasture and forage legumes and farming systems; and for the protection and enhancement of the natural resource base of water, land, and biodiversity.

In addition, ICARDA serves the entire developing world for the improvement of barley, lentil, and faba bean; and dry-area developing countries for the on-farm management of water, improvement of nutrition and productivity of sheep and goats, and the rehabilitation and management of rangelands.

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