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The coming chickpea shortage could affect far more than hummus

Chickpea-based hummus and falafel on table.
Reuters/Ammar Awad
Global chickpea supply could dip as much as 20% this year.
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The global supply of chickpeas could drop as much as 20% this year, according to data from the Global Pulse Confederation, a nonprofit trade organization based in Dubai.

While chickpeas are growing in popularity in the US, particularly when made into hummus, they have long been dietary staples in the Middle East and south Asia, areas that have already been struggling to import key ingredients, largely because of the war in Ukraine.

Rich in protein, chickpeas are found in a variety of foods including hummus, soups, stews, and curries. They can also be ground into flour. There are two main varieties of chickpeas—the Kabuli, a lightly-colored seed most commonly found in the US and Canada, and the Desi, a smaller, dark, irregularly-shaped bean used in India and the Middle East. The shortages are affecting both.

Americans are paying more for hummus

The US imports most of its chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, from Canada, which is facing a decline in production just as demand is increasing. This shortfall could push chickpea and hummus prices, which have already been rising, up even further. In the US, the price of chickpeas for the year-to-date ending May 28 is 6.6% higher than it was for the same period last year, according to NielsenIQ data. Although, that’s still lower than the overall inflation rate for food, which was over 10% in May, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Why is that? Like many commodities from coffee to wheat, weather and war have driven up prices of chickpeas globally.

Droughts and flooding hit chickpeas crops globally

Canada and the US midwest faced a large production shortage due to drought last year, said Mac Ross, director of market access and trade policy at Pulse Canada, a national organization representing growers, traders, and processors of Canadian pulses. Droughts commonly affect this crop.

But chickpea production also depends on market demand, he said. Between 2018 and 2019, the production of chickpeas flourished in Canada. But cultivation fell as prices dropped, so farmers turned to higher value crops over chickpeas, he said. “Our production has been kind of steadily decreasing since that record high of 2018-2019.”

Due to projected good weather conditions, he said a rebound in chickpea crops in Canada is expected this year due to higher prices. Chickpeas in Canada are harvested around September.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, flooding in Mexico and Australia—the latter being the biggest chickpea exporter in the world—have shortened yields, the Guardian reported.

Chickpeas as part of a staple diet for many countries

Americans may have to pay more for their hummus, but the situation could be more dire for other countries where chickpeas are a staple. After the US, the biggest buyer of Canada’s chickpeas is Pakistan, and, as Ross pointed out, there’s always demand from the Indian subcontinent.

In India, the demand also depends on local production, said Ross. In the past, Canada supplied buyers in India with yellow peas, as they were a cheaper variety of pulse. But, last year, India put an import ban on yellow peas to help support chickpea farmers.

India, a major importer of chickpeas, said it expects this year to harvest a crop of chickpeas bigger than last year. But Ross said analysts are skeptical due to the country’s dry conditions.

War plays a factor in global supply chain disruption

In addition to severe weather, the war has also exacerbated chickpea shortages.

Russia’s invasion stopped Ukraine from seeding its total chickpea crop, so buyers from south Asia and the Mediterranean turned to the US and Canada, Reuters reported.

“When the Russia-Ukraine war broke out, the demand boomed,” Jeff Van Pevenage, CEO of Columbia Grain International, a Portland, Oregon-based grain and pulse supplier, told Reuters. “We saw strong demand from China, then it was calls from customers in Pakistan and Bangladesh.”

Pre-war, countries would buy up lower-quality chickpeas from places like Russia because the prices were cheaper, said Ross. But now that Russia has also quit the chickpea market due to the war, that has made some buyers anxious, so they are looking at higher-priced markets like Canada, he said. In turn, that makes it harder for poorer countries to procure ingredients that their diets depend on.

“Russia was able to supply chickpeas to a market like Turkey when the price was right,” said Ross. “But with the advent of the war, it’s sort of been removed out of the market just because a lot of those trade flows go through the Black Sea into Turkey for processing. And those have been shut down with the war.”

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