Innovation lab to improve chickpea production in Ethiopia

FIU researchers are expanding their efforts to breed climate resilient, higher yielding chickpeas.

Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) Feed the Future program, FIU is part of the multinational program known as the “Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Climate Resilient Chickpea.” The five-year, $4 million research effort includes researchers from FIU, the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, the University of Southern California, Harran University in Turkey, and is led by the University of California, Davis.

Researchers and USAID representatives pose at the launch of the Innovation Lab for Climate Resilient Chickpeas in Ethiopia.

Researchers and USAID representatives pose at the launch of the Innovation Lab for Climate Resilient Chickpeas in Ethiopia.

“It feels wonderful to be part of a research partnership striving to increase smallholder farmer productivity in the semi-arid tropics.  We have an excellent international team, with strengths in molecular genetics, genomics, ecology, breeding and outreach to smallholder farmers,” said Eric von Wettberg, professor in the FIU Department of Biological Sciences. “As an evolutionary biologist, it is deeply satisfying to apply evolutionary thinking to one of the greatest challenges we face – feeding the future in the face of climate change.”

Combining genomic technologies and plant breeding, researchers will connect basic research to applied outcomes for crop improvement. By transferring beneficial genes from wild species to their cultivated relatives, the project aims to improve the grain yield, climate resilience, nutritional value and nitrogen-fixing properties of chickpea varieties.

“Our breeder partners in Ethiopia, India, Turkey, Australia and Canada all either produce seed for distribution to farmers, or provide material to seed companies and other distribution networks within each of these regions,” von Wettberg said. “By building international networks, we increase our capacity to meet future challenges faced by smallholder farmers.”

Chickpea is the third most widely-grown legume crop in the world. A highly nutritious crop, it is used as human and animal feed and is one of the more inexpensive sources of protein. Chickpea also has the ability to capture and use atmospheric nitrogen, thus contributing to soil fertility in otherwise nutrient-limited soil. Most production and consumption takes place in developing nations in the Mediterranean, western and southern Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Ethiopia is the largest chickpea producer in Africa and sixth largest in the world.

The new Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Climate Resilient Chickpea is the latest of 23 USAID-funded innovation labs awarded by USAID’s global hunger and food security initiative.

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