Canadians craving hummus may soon be served with a plate of disappointment as a worldwide chickpea shortage looms.
Global chickpea production is forecast to be down 20 per cent this year, according to data from the Global Pulse Confederation (GPC), a non-profit representing various industries in the sector.
Weather issues affecting crops and supply chain snarls are limiting supply of the protein-packed bean, experts say, but another factor is also playing a role: the Ukraine war. As a result, Canadians will likely see chickpea products go up in price as the short supply causes headaches for food producers.
“When we talk about chickpeas in particular, Russia produces about 25 per cent of the world’s chickpea supply. They are producing chickpeas this year, but with the sanctions and with the container issues, they can’t ship or sell their products, and if they do, it’ll be a very negligible amount,” said Lara Gilmour, the editor of Pulse Pod, the GPC’s online publication.
“And it’s the same situation with Ukraine, which produces around five per cent of the global supply. They haven’t seeded, we don’t believe, enough to make a dent on global supply.”
Chickpeas have been growing in popularity in Canada over the last number of years. The legume, which is loaded with protein, can be made into hummus, flour, soups, stews and curries or toasted and made into a snack food.
Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine, which has been raging since Feb. 24, has thrown a wrench into the stability of world markets as western nations economically punish Moscow for the war.
High gas prices are just one of the many examples of the conflict’s impact on Canadians – and now chickpeas can be added to that list.
“It’s hard to say (when we’d exactly feel the impact of the reduced chickpea production). Normally, Russia would be harvesting in the next month their chickpea crop,” Gilmour said.
“We don’t know if they’re going to be able to seed for the next crop, or if they’re going to ship for the next crop.”
The Ukraine war worsened an already reduced production cycle of chickpeas in the world, including in North America where chickpea crops aren’t as lucrative for farmers as corn, said Sylvain Charlebois, a professor in food distribution and food policy at Dalhousie University.
Furthermore, a severe drought in the American west coast last year left many farmers with less crop to flood the market with, said Opher Baron, professor of operations management with the Rotman School of Management.
As a result, they say Canadians can expect to see prices for chickpea products increase.
“Manufacturers will likely increase prices and retail prices will be affected, but then again, it doesn’t necessarily mean that demand will follow suit. Typically, consumers don’t react well to higher prices – they’ll just walk away and buy something else,” said Charlebois.
“Now, this increase is likely going to be temporary. The market now is much more predictable than it was just a few months ago, and we can feel that western countries are starting to plan for next year already, and we are expecting next year to be a little bit more stable production-wise. We’re still looking at a rocky situation, but we are expecting things to calm down into 2023.”
However, the impact of a chickpea reduction in other parts of the world could be more devastating, said Baron.
While they are popular in Canada and the United States, chickpeas have been a mainstay in the diets of people in India and the Middle East for many years – places struggling with the rising costs of food imports.
Canadian farmers are expected to produce 110 kilotonnes of chickpeas in 2022-2023, Statistics Canada says, up from 76 kilotonnes produced in 2021-2022, but down from 214 kilotonnes in 2020-2021.
Majority of Canada’s chickpea production is exported, said Charlebois, and with top buyers from South Asia and the Mediterranean trying to scoop up dwindling stocks as supplies shrink worldwide, and as Russia’s Ukraine war exacerbates disruptions to global supply chains, chickpea availability might remain limited.
“In places around the world where hummus is a staple of diets, such a shortage may create big issues, especially with the general economic situation, which is not great, right? So in the Middle East, in Pakistan, in India, where this is really an important source of food, there may be bigger issues that people will be facing,” said Baron.
“The bigger impact is on people who eat this daily … and in some of these places, there’s a lot of population living in poverty or close to poverty, and when you increase the cost of food for this population, the impact is tremendous.”
‘A beacon of hope’ emerges in world food security
On Friday, “a beacon of hope” emerged when Ukraine and Russia signed separate agreements with Turkey and the United Nations to clear the way for exporting millions of tons of desperately needed Ukrainian grain, as well as Russian grain and fertilizer, ending a wartime standoff that had threatened global food security.
“Today, there is a beacon on the Black Sea,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
“A beacon of hope, a beacon of possibility, a beacon of relief in a world that needs it more than ever.”
Ukraine will now be able to export 22 million tons of grain and other agricultural products that have been stuck in Black Sea ports during the nearly five-month-long war.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its naval blockade of its ports have halted shipments. Some grain has been transported through Europe by rail, road and river, but the prices of vital commodities like wheat and barley have soared as a result of the conflict.
The deal signed Friday is “certainly good news,” especially for nations who rely on Ukraine’s crops like wheat, barley, sunflower, mustard and chickpeas, said Charlebois.
“It’s going to ease pressure, and I’m thinking about North Africa, the Middle East – we’re already seeing some social unrest in different parts of the world, including Sri Lanka, for example,” he said.
“It’s quite unfortunate that the Russian regime decided to weaponize food in this way, but at least a deal will actually ease the pressure that many nations are under right now.”
— with files from Reuters and the Associated Press