Global Chickpea Shortage Could Eat Into Your Hummus Habit

Weather and war play a role in the crop's reduction, among other factors.

dried chickpeas in a bowl

Michael Moeller / EyeEm / Getty Images

If you're a chickpea fan, you may have noticed that the price has gone up in recent months. In the United States, chickpeas are now 12% more expensive than they were last year and 17% more than before the pandemic. This is due to a global crop shortage caused by a number of different factors, and it's bound to have effects far more serious than reducing the variety of hummus options in North American supermarkets.

Chickpeas are an important form of cheap protein for people in many developing countries, including Pakistan, India, Turkey, and more. The shortage hurts households that are already struggling to cope with rising food costs, and may have fewer alternative options for feeding their families than those of us in more developed countries.

Reasons for the shortage can be roughly summarized as war and weather. Ukraine was unable to seed its usual chickpea crop after getting invaded by Russia, which removed 50,000 tonnes of inventory that would normally be shipped to Europe. Russia usually exports between 200,000 and 250,000 tonnes of chickpeas annually—roughly one-quarter of the global market—but sanctions have restricted other countries' access to those crops. 

Navneet Chhabra, director of Global Garbanzo, said, "Before the sanctions, Russia used to export 20,000 tons of chickpeas per month but now they are limited to 5,000. Russian products go all over the world: Turkey, Iraq, Dubai, Jordan, Egypt, and especially Pakistan are all big buyers from Russia. Global supply decreasing like this has left a big gap on the supply side, increasing every other chickpea market's prices by $100-$200 per ton since the war began."

Then there's the weather. A drought last year discouraged many American farmers from planting chickpeas this year, and then poor conditions negatively affected spring planting. This drove many farmers to plant more lucrative crops like wheat and corn instead—a total reduction of 5% fewer acres planted with chickpeas than usual, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Mexican yields were slashed as well, due to weather problems, and many Australian fields have suffered from flooding. India has been experiencing unusually dry conditions.

Reuters cites a farmer from North Dakota who said chickpeas are susceptible to fungal infections that require expensive fertilizers. "Prices are still pretty good, but it's a headache trying to deal with them." 

flowering chickpea plants
Flowering chickpea plants in Maharashtra, India.

Mayur Kakade / Getty Images

Transportation is another major factor making it hard to move chickpeas around the globe. There are limited ocean vessels and shipping containers available to exporters, which is forcing them to find alternative means of transportation by road or rail. This is time-consuming, inefficient, and expensive. Chhabra told PulsePod that freight in Canada and the U.S. used to cost $60-$70 per ton, but now is $150.

From Reuters: "Columbia Grain International usually exports some of its chickpeas by ocean vessel through the Pacific Northwest. But as West Coast ports were snarled up, Columbia Grain last fall started sending chickpeas by rail to Houston, Texas, in search of available ocean transport—nearly doubling shipping costs."

Shopping habits play a surprising role, too. As Chhabra pointed out, many people started shopping online for food during the pandemic, but that's a very different experience than going to a store. "When you buy things online, you are more direct and tend to only buy the things that you need in specific quantities, while in a [grocery store] you often purchase more, stock up. With these new online spending habits and hospitality not functioning properly, consumption went down."

It's always a bad time for an ingredient shortage, but chickpeas have started to shine in recent years as people look for healthy and delicious non-processed alternatives to animal protein. Many startups rely on them as a staple. Chickpeas are a wonderfully versatile food that can be eaten plain or turned into burgers, felafel, curry, soup, flour, crackers, spreads, and countless other recipes. 

As demand rises for these humble little peas, that could lead farmers to plant and harvest more next year, but that takes time. Depending on how the next six months of sales go, farmers in the Northern Hemisphere will seed accordingly between April and June of next year for a crop later in 2023. With wheat prices being high, however, farmers may be incentivized to plant more of that. Chhabra says that, despite high chickpea prices, "Canada and Turkey are also saying that they may reduce their seeding, switching to other current cash crops like wheat and barley." 

Only time will tell, but this is a good reminder not to take those chickpeas for granted. Savor that hummus even more than usual, let none of it go to waste, and be reminded of just how unpredictable global supply chains can be.