Chickpea is an economically important crop grown by nearly one million Ethiopian smallholder farmers. The crop is often considered as “stress-loving”, but moisture stress at critical growth stages could be detrimental. Yield of chickpea is commonly affected by terminal drought stress in the rainfed production system in Ethiopia. The lack of proper field-screening methods has hindered the development of drought tolerant varieties. This study demonstrates a simple and practical field-level screening method for drought traits in the conventional breeding programs. A field experiment was conducted using 28 elite cultivars to study their responses to moisture regimes of varying drought intensities. We used yield and its component traits as proxy parameters of screening to select tolerant cultivars. The study revealed significant variation among the cultivars for their response to different moisture regimes. The kabuli cultivars were found more sensitive compared with the desi types. Yield penalty exceeded 70% under severe stress conditions. Genotypes tested under mild and severe stress conditions showed average yield gain of 22% and 48%, respectively relative to the irrigated treatment. Overall, over 50% yield gain can be obtained in drought-affected rain-fed production areas in Ethiopia using supplemental irrigation at later growth stages of the crop.
Keywords: chickpea, component traits, moisture stress, rain-fed, terminal drought, yield penalty