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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER)
Cycle 4 (2015 Deadline)

Enhancing food security through improved productivity, nutrition and marketing of chickpea in central and western Ethiopia

PI: Kassahun Tesfaye Geletu (, Institute of Biotechnology, Addis Ababa University
U.S. Partner: Douglas R. Cook, University of California, Davis
Project Dates: October 2015 - April 2019

Project Overview

Agriculture in Ethiopia forms the basis of the economy, with 80% smallholder farmers. These farming systems are characterized by low yields, widespread use of unimproved landraces, outdated production technologies, and biotic and abiotic stresses. In western and northwestern Ethiopia, soil acidity and consequent aluminum toxicity are a primary limitation to crop productivity, especially for chickpea (Cicer arietinum). Chickpea is the world’s second most widely grown pulse crop and a major source of human protein nutrition, with 40% of Africa’s chickpea crop being grown in Ethiopia. However Ethiopia’s chickpea yields remain low, well below yield potential.

Among the constraints to chickpea production is its sensitivity to aluminum toxicity (Sahu et al., 2010), which is a defining feature of low pH soils that are widely distributed in Ethiopia. It is critical to identify tolerant germplasm and understand the molecular genetic basis of aluminum tolerance. Moreover, because chickpea yields depend on beneficial soil microorganisms, especially nitrogen-fixing symbiotic bacteria and phosphate solubilizing micro-organisms (PSMs), a parallel need is to identify acid/Al-tolerant chickpea

4-315 1.18Kassahun 4-315 2.18
Field data collection by PEER PhD studentsPhoto courtesy of Dr. Kassahun

The project is well aligned with USAID’s focus in Ethiopia o n Agricultural Growth-Enabled Food Security, which emphasizes climate change, food security, and nutrition. Developing resilient crops in Ethiopia, such as chickpea tolerant to acid soils, is essential to improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. 

This project combines expertise in plant breeding and genomics, soil microbiology, and socioeconomics to develop chickpea technology to improve crop productivity and marketing in central and western regions of Ethiopia. The project will leverage the resources and expertise of the U.S. partner by testing wild-cultivated introgression lines, landraces, and elite cultivars for tolerance to acid. In parallel, the project researchers will identify tolerance to acid soils in endemic symbiotic Mesorhizobium and co-occurring PSM populations. Products will be pipelined to national chickpea breeding programs with Ethiopia for variety development and release.

Summary of Recent Activities

In their previous progress report the team reported that they had an ongoing field screening experiment at Endibir Research Station, SW Addis Ababa. Seeds of 100 chickpea genotypes: 25 nationally released improved varieties, 7pipelines, 46 accessions from EBI and 22 own collections were planted with and without lime using simple lattice design with two replication. Agronomic data’s such as days to 50% plant flowering, days to maturity, stand count, plant height and number of pods per plant were collected.

In this quarter however, the PI reports that later in the experiment, however, the whole field trial was completely destroyed by unknown group of people due to some social unrest and uprising that occurred in western and central highlands of Ethiopia, which led to a declaration of 6 months State of Emergency. Unfortunately, they were unable to harvest a single seed as the whole field trial was completely devastated. As a consequence, they couldn’t collect and finalize the yield data. As a remedy to the above incident, they have prepared a backup plan and they are planning to repeat the field experiment with a greenhouse experiment at DZARC. All 100 chickpea genotypes will be planted with and without lime in 2 replication. The soil that will be used for the pot experiment will be obtained from Endebir research station. The data generated form this year field experiment will be associated with the pot experiment and used as preliminary screening experiment to select germplasms for the coming year’s multilocation advanced trial.

In the next 3-6 months,  the project team will work on finalizing data collection and analysis, hydroponic screening experiment of chickpea landraces and germplasms will be finalized by next quarter and lastly, finalize the report for the chickpea value chain. Genotyping by sequencing (GBS) of some tolerant and susceptible genotypes is still ongoing at University of California UC Davis. 

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 Field layout preparation at Endebir site. Photo courtesy of Dr. Kassahun

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