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UH tests chickpeas as food crop on 5 islands

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    Chickpeas could become a prime crop in Hawaii. Above, a farmer holds chickpea seedpods at his farm north of Alliance, Neb.


    Chickpeas, above, readied for a recipe.

KAILUA-KONA >> Chickpeas could become a key to Hawaii’s path to food security and sustainability.

Researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources conducted growth trials for the past two years of more than 20 varieties of chickpeas at six locations on five islands, including Hawaii island.

Project lead and CTAHR extension agent Amjad Ahmad presented the results Friday to more than 15 would-be chickpea growers at the university’s Lalamilo Experiment Station.

Chickpeas grow in dry climates and rely exclusively on rainfall for water, so they don’t need to be heavily irrigated. The protein-packed legume replenishes nutrients in the soil as it grows, making it a good choice for crop rotation in Hawaii.

“Soil restoration in Hawaii is a really big deal,” said field day attendee Shaun Bayles, pointing to the damage monocultures such as pineapple and sugar have wrought on soil throughout the state.

Bayles lives on Maui and co-founded Chic Naturals with his mother, Joan, five years ago. The company makes roasted chickpea snacks using Mom’s homemade flavors, but still has to get its garbanzos, as chickpeas are also known, from Washington state because practically none are grown in Hawaii.

“It would be nice if we could grow them here and have 100 percent Hawaiian products,” Bayles said.

Two years ago, the Bayleses helped CTAHR write a proposal for a state Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Grant, which funds projects aimed at finding new crops that could thrive in the islands.

It’s a solution that addresses the problems of food security and sustainability: About 90 percent of Hawaii’s food is imported, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.

Finding new crops for Hawaii is partially a matching game, because researchers have to find the right microclimate for a given variety. Some chickpeas thrived in some parts of Maui and Hawaii island but didn’t grow well in others. And the Mealani Research Station, just a few miles down the road in Waimea, was ruled out entirely as a possible growing site because it gets too much rainfall.

The first round of trials concluded this year, but the growing team has since received a second Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Grant to continue its work.

Future research efforts will investigate more locations and varieties as well as harvest methods. In the meantime, Ahmad encouraged those interested in trying their hand at chickpea cultivation to contact him for seeds.

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