Chickpea production in fairly new in Flemish agriculture. However, there is a lot of potential in this sector. Not only are there value-addition opportunities in the additional processing sectors such as drying, cleaning and packaging, but cultivating chickpeas also offers some co-benefits such as nitrogen fixation, enhanced ecosystem services and a reduction of emissions. They serve as a nutritious alternative for meat as well. These opportunities for food security, regenerative agriculture, emissions reduction and regional and national economic advancement can be supported and enlarged by linking farmers in a profitable way to the chain. Inclusive business is a concept in which this is preserved and where small-scale farmers and other weak actors have an equal place in the chain and at the negotiating table. Emma Van Acker, student at KU Leuven, investigated for her master thesis the inclusiveness of the Flemish chickpea sector. She was supervised by Prof Maarten Loopmans and Dr. Tessa Avermaete. This thesis took place in the framework of the COCOREADO project.
In the agrifood sector, many challenges regarding creating sustainability exist, going from environmental problems such as extensive water use, soil depletion, use of pesticides, etcetera., to social problems such as the low income of farmers, health, etcetera., to economic problems such as crop failures, affordability of prices, etcetera.
To act on a few of these challenges, the Flemish government together with 64 partners works towards a protein transition. This means changing the current 60/40 ratio between animal and plant-based protein intake to a 40/60 ratio. The introduction of new local crops high in proteins can not only facilitate this change but also ensures that the local agricultural sector can benefit from this transition. One of the crops in the spotlight is the chickpea.
In the master thesis of KU Leuven student Emma Van Acker, the inclusiveness of the chickpea sector in Flanders was researched and with that, the biggest obstacles and opportunities of this sector were identified. The conclusion states that the main obstacles in the chickpea sector are: the high variability in yield; the uncompetitive price with respect to the world price and to other crops; the limited presence of systems to cope with production risks and innovation investment; the temporary nature of projects currently supporting research and the set-up of chains; the difficulties in finding cleaning companies willing to clean small batches and finally the questions around the possibility of organic production. The biggest opportunities are: the large and still growing demand; the cultivation benefits; the resilience against the higher temperatures and droughts related to climate change and the strong chain-wide collaboration.
By focusing on inclusiveness, some of these opportunities can be strengthened and obstacles reduced. In this research, two different pathways of how the chickpea sector could evolve were examined. One option is not scaling up in the sense of having large areas of chickpeas on one farm, but by including chickpeas in the crop rotation schedules of many farms while staying connected to a short chain that delivers to conscious consumers. The other option is scaling up so that larger players can also be connected to this sector without having to inefficiently address many farmers to collect the desired quantity. For now, only the first path seems feasible. Within this path, the principles of chain-wide collaboration, effective market linkages and fair and transparent governance will be most fulfilled. The other option may have potential if a chickpea variant better adapted to the Flemish climate is found. This last option can best strengthen the access to services.
Research on the inclusiveness of a sector following the inclusive business principles has proven to be able to identify the biggest obstacles and opportunities of that sector and to give specific recommendations on how to overcome obstacles in a sustainably way. In this research, the main recommendation is to think about and install risk-spreading systems that work in the short-chain circuit as well as on large-scale business relationships.