Dr. Amjad Ahmad’s chickpea plots are
flourishing in diverse areas of the state.
What does a chickpea want?
Not much, according to Amjad Ahmad. That’s why the UN has declared 2016 the
International Year of Pulses: Legumes are able to grow—and give bountiful
nutrition to humans and animals—with relatively few inputs. They’re drought
tolerant, and thanks to nitrogen-fixing rhizobia, they need little fertilizer.
Dr. Ahmad, in the department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences, is well
positioned to speak on what chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, require. He
studied them in his native Iraq, and now, with funding support from the Hawai‘i
Department of Agriculture, he’s trialing ten varieties in six locations on five
He was originally motivated
to investigate garbanzos because introducing new crops is important for
agricultural diversity and self-sufficiency in Hawai‘i. “My most important
question was, can we grow chickpeas here?” he explains. “The answer to that is
yes.” Now he’s asking more questions. Sustainability, he notes, involves three
factors: people, planet, and profit. Can we grow food in ways that will nourish
those who eat it, that will help and not harm the earth in which we grow it,
and do so in ways that provide a living wage for the growers and processers?
Two of these three are settled; profitability is being worked out. Harvesting
by hand is labor intensive and cuts into profit, so now he’s investigating
mechanical harvesting possibilities.
chickpea plants dry up, they’re ready for harvest in this Maui field.
Sales won’t be a problem. So
far Dr. Ahmad is the only one planting chickpeas here, but the market is waiting
for growers to embrace the crop. The popularity of the garbanzo-based spread
hummus spreading exponentially, and he’s partnering with a Maui company that
makes a variety of chickpea snacks—including surprisingly tasty brownies!—that
has long been searching for an Island-based grower of the legumes. He’s
confident the market will continue to expand, considering the many potential
uses for the nutty round beans.
Chickpeas are high in protein and
carbohydrates, but they’re not the only food source Dr. Ahmad envisions.
Chickpea “hay,” the plants after the beans are harvested, is a valuable feed
for ruminants and can help to support a growing livestock industry in the
Islands, says Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences researcher Rajesh Jha,
who tested some of the plants. The only issue? It may have a similar effect on
cattle as legumes have on some people. In ruminants, the problem is mitigated
by supplementing with other types of feed. For humans? Dr. Ahmad has a tasty
prescription: Eat with garlic.