12 September 2012

Queensland is poised to become Australia's leading producer and exporter of chickpeas in the future thanks to a $4.8 million research grant announced in this year's State budget.

The grant will enable researchers at the Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) to develop new varieties of chickpeas and other pulses that are more drought tolerant and disease resistant.

Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities deputy director Professor Sagadevan Mundree said the research would open up more land in regional Queensland to agricultural production.

"Our research should enable existing growers on more marginal land to expand into chickpea and other tropical pulse production," he said.

He said Queensland currently produced one-quarter of Australia's 500,000 tonne annual chickpea production and the bulk of the crop was exported to India.

"The world produces some 60 million tonnes of pulses per year and while India, the world's largest producer, consumes 35 per cent of this, India still imports approximately five million tonnes of pulses per annum," he said.

"The world has an almost insatiable appetite for pulses such as chickpeas.

"Pulses are an important source of protein and as the world's population increases the current dependence on animal protein is simply not sustainable.

"Chickpeas and other pulses will fill the gap and thanks to this State Government grant Queensland has an opportunity to develop this industry and to reap the rewards in the future."

Professor Mundree said the research would focus on chickpea varieties that are specifically targeted at the Indian market.

He said the research would use biotechnology to genetically improve chickpea resistance to drought and salinity as well as to pests such as weevils and diseases including viruses.

The Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities' track record of working with industries such as the sugar and banana industries in Queensland and globally has led to significant outcomes for these industries.

"We are well on the way to introducing vitamin A rich bananas into Ugandan agriculture, a project which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and expect within the next few years to have iron-rich banana plants ready for production in India," he said.

"As well, our sugarcane-based research is resulting in significant diversification of product streams from bagasse.

"In this new three year project we will lay solid foundations for the expansion of pulse growing in Queensland.

"By developing hardier tropical crops and enabling their greater use, QUT is helping to develop new industries for Queensland."

Media contact: Rose Trapnell, QUT media team leader, 07 3138 2361 or 0407 585 901

Professor Sagadevan Mundree's research to develop more drought tolerant and disease resistant varieties of chickpeas should make Queensland Australia's leading producer and exporter of chickpeas.