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Chickpeas, or mutton peas, are a food and forage leguminous crop.

Chickpeas (Cicer arietinum)
Chickpeas (Cicer arietinum)
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©H. Zell (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Economic importance

Chickpea seeds contain 20-23% protein (up to 30%), 3.4-4.5% fat (up to 7%), 41-60% carbohydrates, 2.7% minerals. The seeds are eaten fresh, boiled or canned. Seeds have a very good digestibility. Their taste corresponds to peas, but they are more indigestible. They are also used as a raw material for coffee substitute. For food purposes, varieties with white seeds are mainly cultivated. The dark seeded varieties are used as fodder.

Chickpea stems and leaves contain organic acids (oxalic acid, malic acid, etc.) which renders the green and dry mass of the chickpea unsuitable for fodder purposes except as sheep feed. However, immature green pods and tender shoots are used as a vegetable.

Chickpeas are convenient for mechanical maintenance sowing and harvesting. Chickpeas do not crack when ripe. In the steppe and dry-steppe zones of the country its crops are replaced by peas, which are not grown in these conditions. In the dry-steppe zone, chickpeas are also superior to chickpeas in terms of yield. On the contrary, it is not cultivated in the forest-steppe zone because of its high susceptibility to ascochytosis, and its yield in these conditions is noticeably lower than that of other leguminous crops.

History of the crop

The progenitors of the modern chickpea have not been found. A possible center of origin could be western Asia, particularly southeastern Turkey. Southwest Asia, the Mediterranean, and Ethiopia have been identified as centers of diversity.

According to archaeological research, chickpeas are one of the oldest agricultural crops. Chickpeas were grown in ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt.

Wild forms of chickpeas are unknown but the large-seeded forms grow in Mediterranean countries and the small-seeded forms grow in southwestern Asia.

Cultivation areas

Chickpeas are the second most important legume crop in the world. Of the 7.9 million tons of world production in 1994, 70% was produced in India. Emerging economies account for most of the production. Chickpea is the world’s third largest crop of leguminous crops with 11-12 million hectares under cultivation, of which 8 million hectares are in India. Europe also has small areas such as Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Italy, France, and Spain. Chickpeas are also grown in Mexico.

The gross grain yield in the world is 8.3 million tons or 3.6% of the total grain legume harvest. The average yield is 0.7-0.8 t/ha.

In the former Soviet Union it has been cultivated in Central Asia and Transcaucasia since ancient times. At present it is cultivated in the North Caucasus, in the Central Black Earth zone, in the southeast of Russia and Western Siberia, as well as in the steppe regions of Ukraine. The area of cultivation was about 30 thousand hectares.

Official statistics on chickpea in Russia is not kept. Estimated sown area – 20 thousand hectares, gross grain yield – 20 thousand tons, average yield – 1.0 t/ha.


Chickpea seed yield at Novoannensky state variety plot was 3.0 t/ha (1980), at Pugachevsky state variety plot Saratov region 3.2 t/ha (1980), in Bashkiria – 3.4 t/ha, in Labinskiy varietal site of Krasnodar Territory – 4.1 t/ha.

Under favorable conditions, the yield is 3-4 t/ha, more often 1.5-2 t/ha.

Botanical description

Chickpeas (Cicer arietinum L.) are an annual bushy upright, self-pollinating legume.

The root is taprooted.

The stem is strong, ribbed, branched, non-legal, up to 60 cm high.

The plant is covered with glandular hairs that secrete a caustic liquid consisting of malic acid and a small amount of oxalic acid. This liquid serves as protection against insect pests. Workers’ outer garments, especially shoes, can deteriorate from prolonged contact with these acids.

The leaves are unpaired, the leaflets are serrated.

Flowers are solitary, white, red-purple, greenish-yellow, blue or pink. Cross-pollination is sometimes possible.

The fruit is a pod. Pods are short, 2-3 cm long and 1-2 cm wide, oval, strongly pubescent, swollen, with 1-3 seeds of rounded, globular or slightly angular shape with a spout; they resemble a ram’s head. Sometimes the beans may be empty.

The color of the seeds is white, pink, brown, or black. It takes 4 months after anthesis for the seeds to mature. The weight of 1,000 seeds is 100-600 g.

Seed size and shape vary greatly among the varieties. In foreign practice, two forms of seeds are distinguished:

  • macrocarpa or kabuli, with one or two large beige-colored seeds in the pod, which are characterized by a “ram’s head” shape as well as a beak;
  • microcarpa or desi produces two to three small, dark-colored, irregularly shaped seeds per pod.

In Russian practice, the cultivated chickpea has 4 subspecies differing in shape and coloring of seeds; the most widespread subspecies in Russia is ssp. eurasiaticum G. P. – is a tall plant with seeds of medium size, rounded shape with a beak. The weight of 1000 seeds is 200-300 g.


Biological features

Temperature requirements

Chickpeas have higher heat requirements than peas and lentils, especially during the flowering, bean setting and ripening phases, but they are frost-resistant and cold-resistant. There are forms which can overwinter in conditions of Central Asia.

Seeds germinate at 2-5 °C. Sprouts may survive frosts as low as -6…-11 °C. For example, in Voronezh Province chickpea continued to grow even after frosts of -10 °C.

In the North Caucasus, chickpea is capable of overwintering; under a layer of snow, it can survive frosts as low as -25 °C.


Moisture requirements

Chickpeas are better drought tolerant than lathyrus and other leguminous crops. In wet and rainy years, it is prone to fungal diseases such as ascochytosis, fusarium.

Chickpeas are the only plant that withstands severe droughts in the Lower Volga Region.

Light requirements

Long days provoke early flowering, but the response varies from variety to variety.

Soil requirements

Does not require soils. Light loamy chernozem and dark chestnut soils are optimal. Worse grows on solonetz and sandy soils, but is able to give a normal yield.


The vegetation period of small-seeded chickpea is 65-80 days, and of large-seeded – 75-140 days, depending on variety.

Seeds swell slowly, and this process requires a sufficiently large amount of water.

In wet weather it is prone to damage by fungal diseases, pollination and fruit setting slows down.

Crop rotation

Chickpea is a good preceding crop in the rotation for winter, row crops and fertilized spring crops.

Chickpea is a good precedent for spring grain crops in the rotation, for cotton in the cotton-sowing areas, and for winter crops in the south in conditions of sufficient moisture.

Fertilizer system

The chickpea fertilization system is similar to that of peas and lathyrus.

Responsive to phosphorus fertilizers, which are applied at a rate of 80-90 kg/ha of phosphorus. The combined use of nitragin and phosphorus-potassium fertilizers can increase grain yield by 0.5 t/ha.

On light soils are effective organic fertilizers.


Tillage for chickpeas is similar to that for peas and lathyrus.

Chickpeas responds well to early deep autumn tillage to a depth of 30 cm.


Seed preparation

It is recommended to treat the seeds before sowing with bacterial preparations such as rhizotorfin or nitragin. The yield increase from nitragin treatment is 0.3 t/ha.

Sowing dates

Chickpea is an early sowing crop. Delay in sowing leads to thinning of seedlings.

Sowing methods

Chickpea is sown by the row and wide-row (one- and two-line) with inter-row spacing of 45 cm. Row method is used on fields clean of weeds and in areas with sufficient moisture.

For the wide-row method, a scheme of 75 cm between the rows, and 30 cm between plants in the row can be recommended.

Seeded grain seeders adjusted to the top sowing.

Seeding rates

Seeding rate by the row seeding method is 0.7-1.1 million germinated seeds or 200-350 kg/ha, wide-row – 0.5-0.8 million germinated seeds or 120-160 kg/ha.

Sowing depth

Sowing depth 5-8 cm. On light soils and in conditions of spring drought the depth is increased to 10 cm.

Crop care

After sowing, the soil is rolled. In case of weeds appearance – pre-emergence harrowing across the rows. During the growing season, if necessary, perform inter-row treatment to control weeds.

Chickpea is considered resistant to grain blight but suffers from the chickpea fly, which is the main pest of the crop. With hot, dry weather, resistance to the pest increases, so chemical weed control is not usually necessary.

To control weeds, the herbicide Prometrin is used at a rate of 3 kg of the drug per 1 hectare, which is used to treat the soil before sowing or immediately after sowing until the emergence of seedlings.


Pods of most chickpea varieties do not crack during ripening, ripening occurs almost simultaneously, the seeds are not crushed during threshing. These properties allow chickpeas to be harvested in a single phase. This method is used for harvesting when the plants turn yellow and the seeds harden on the low cut.

In case of clogged crops, two-phase harvesting is more appropriate, which starts when most of the pods turn yellow (somewhat earlier than the single-phase method). Grain harvesters for cropping are re-equipped in the same way as for harvesting other leguminous crops.


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