Chickpea (Cicer arietinum) is a promising post-wet-season crop to follow rainfed rice (Oryza sativa) in the High Barind Tract of northwestern Bangladesh. Yields in farmers' fields, however, remain low (<1 t ha−1) primarily due to such factors as poor crop establishment, late sowing, and terminal drought and heat stress. Having been shown to improve plant stand and yield of chickpea in other environments, seed priming – soaking the seed overnight before surface drying and sowing the next day – was tested for its efficacy under Barind conditions.
In the 1998–99 season, 30 trials grown entirely on residual soil moisture were conducted in farmers' fields. A statistically significant mean yield response to priming of 47% was obtained. In 1999–2000, 105 on-farm trials and 15 demonstrations comparing presence and absence of priming were conducted. The crop received rain during this growing season. In a randomly chosen subset of 35 trials, scientists recorded a mean yield increase due to priming of 20%; it was 22% (from 1.02 to 1.25 t ha−1) in the remaining 64 trials (6 of the 105 trials were abandoned) where farmers recorded yields. Using a different variety, the mean yield response to priming in 15 demonstrations was 17% (from 1.25 to 1.46 t ha−1).
The priming response was attributed mainly to rapid seedling establishment, with higher plant stand and earlier crop maturity allowing escape from end-of-season stresses. Priming also reduced the incidence of stem and root diseases, and increased nodulation by native rhizobia. This simple technology can substantially increase chickpea yields to remunerative levels for the resource-poor farmers in this difficult environment. Further, it is suggested that this technology can act as a catalyst for the introduction of further technologies that will permit reliable and profitable cultivation of post-rainy-season crops and thus improve the livelihoods of the rural population.