With more than 3 billion people affected, land degradation is one of the world’s biggest environmental problems. In Uzbekistan, where agriculture is an important source of income for rural population, land degradation poses substantial threats for sustainable development, causing declines in crop yields and livestock productivity.
One of the main forms of degradation is soil erosion – loss of topsoil by wind and water exacerbated by intensive use of tillage machinery. In rain-fed areas of the country, soil erosion and fertility depletion are worsened by wheat mono-cropping with intensive tillage and cultivation on sloping lands without soil and water conservation measures.
Growing legume crops like chickpeas can improve the soils and reduce the use of fertilizers.
The Regional Program for Sustainable Agricultural Development in Central Asia and Caucasus led by ICARDA is promoting the cultivation of winter chickpea as a solution to recover degraded lands and harness the potential of raid-fed areas.
During the recent international conference on agricultural transformation, food security and nutrition in Central Asia, organized by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the ministry of Agriculture of Uzbekistan and the International Westminster University in Tashkent, ICARDA presented an animated video on the benefits of cultivating winter chickpea in the rain-fed areas.
Originated in the Southeast Turkey, chickpea is the world’s second-largest smallholder-cultivated food legume. It is an excellent source of high-quality protein, with a wide range of essential amino acids and nutritious staple of many diets and grown in more than 50 countries. Their rich content of micronutrients, including iron and zinc, can help combat anemia widespread in developing countries.
Chickpea is a rotation crop, suited to a sequence with cereals. It is also an agricultural wonder: bacteria that lives in the nodules along the plant’s roots are able to transform the life-giving nitrogen from the air into the organic form and enrich the soil.
Traditionally, the chickpea is sown in early spring. However, the researchers from Uzbekistan in collaboration with ICARDA have developed several varieties of winter chickpea, using the germplasm, provided by ICARDA genebank. “The new varieties are cold-resistant and can endure short-term drop in temperature to minus 15 degrees Celsius,” said Dr. Ram Sharma, Regional Coordinator of ICARDA for Central Asia and the Caucasus. “They also provide up to 50 percent higher yield than spring varieties.”
With growing demand on the international market in the past few decades, cultivation of winter chickpea can bring economic profits for farmers. Over the past 20 years, such non-chickpea producers like Australia, Russia, Canada and the United States, have become the main exporters producing up to 30 percent of world production in recent years.
“Uzbekistan has around 700,000 hectares of potential rainfed lands, suitable for growing annual crops,” said Dr. Sharma. “Of these, less than 300,000 hectares are sown with grain, legumes, oilseeds and fodder crops. With growing population nd limited irrigated lands, these lands can contribute to ensure the food security and improve the livelihoods of rural communities in the country.”