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PepsiCo Invests in Ethiopian Chickpea Production

By Lesley Lammers

Chickpea enthusiasts might be pleased to learn that this super food has the potential to start showing up in many more products. That’s because PepsiCo recently partnered with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Food Program (WFP) to institute Enterprise EthioPEA, a program with simultaneous goals of dramatically raising Ethiopia’s chickpea production and providing the country with superior economic as well as food security.

CEO Indra Nooyi plans to see PepsiCo’s budget for "healthy" products rise from the current $10 billion up to $30 billion by 2020 Considering the chickpea’s nutritional value, (it's low in saturated fat and very low in cholesterol and sodium), bringing more chickpeas into the product line make sense for the company, especially to guarantee a secure source of Ethiopian chickpeas for their Sabra hummus, owned by both PepsiCo and Strauss Group Ltd.

Fast Company’s Ariel Schwartz speculates whether PepsiCo’s involvement in the project is purely benevolent or more based upon profit motives, “It's not altruism: Pepsi wants access to a lot of chickpeas, because that's what they want to sell us. PepsiCo has a vested interest in the project that goes beyond just helping Ethiopians; the company wants more of a chickpea supply for its products.”

While Ethiopia is the sixth biggest chickpea exporter worldwide, the majority of farmers that grow chickpeas in Ethiopia do not grow them as a principal crop. The initiative plans to facilitate collaboration with 10,000 Ethiopian farmers, teaching them to utilize developed irrigation and agricultural techniques such as drip irrigation and better quality seeds, in order to grow larger yields of chickpeas twice instead of once per year. An added bonus to making chickpea a major export crop is that it is said to be a sustainable crop to grow, because of the plants ability to take nitrogen from the air as opposed to taking that valuable nutrient out of the soil. What this means is that chickpea cultivation could possibly help create a better soil environment for other crop production in Ethiopia in future years.

A portion of the excess chickpea production won’t go into PepsiCo products, but will be put into a part of the EthioPEA project, which aims to create a chickpea-based food product to help address the 40,000 Ethiopian youth who are said to be either in danger of or currently living with malnutrition. This prepared-to-eat food product has already been used by the WFP to tackle hunger issues in Pakistan.

Derek Yach, PepsiCo spokesperson, explains to the New York Times that the initiative will take time to have any significant effect on relieving famine in Ethiopia and the surrounding region, “The tough reality is that crops grow as fast as they grow. Some 12 million people will remain in need for years after this famine ends, though, and we might have some impact on them.”

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Lesley Lammers is a freelance sustainability consultant and journalist, focused on the intersection between the environment, food, social impact, human rights, health and entrepreneurship.

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