Video: Discussing Entreprise EthioPEA with Derek Yach at CGI 2011

One of the commitments announced at this year’s Clinton Global Initiative is a public-private partnership between Pepsico, USAID, and the World Food Programme to “dramatically increase chickpea production and promote long-term nutritional and economic security in Ethiopia.” The initiative has three distinct goals:

– To enable nearly 10,000 Ethiopian farmers to double their production of chickpeas by improving farming practices;

– In partnership with WFP, to fund an alternative to food supplements like Plumpy Nut, to address urgent malnutrition needs in Ethiopia;

– To scale up and strengthen the Ethiopian chickpea supply chain, to harness the potential of a domestic and export market and increase the availability of locally-produced nutritious products for consumers.

In layman’s terms, Entreprise EthioPEA will be creating a new source of chickpeas for Pepsi products, improve the efficiency and quality of chickpea production through technical assistance and capacity building, delivering new export earnings for Ethiopia and enhancing livelihoods for farmers. While the linkage with WFP is a critical one, what’s interesting about this initiative is how blends strategic corporate interests (establishing a presence in a promising emerging market, securing a supply of an increasingly popular food crop) with development objectives (improving farming practices, enhancing farming capacity and reducing food insecurity in Ethiopia.)

In speaking with Derek Yach, I thought it encouraging to see that this an initiative is about much more than philanthropy or aid. As Yach details in the video below, this project will need to show positive results early on to make it a viable business decision for the company. One of the topics that has come up again and again in this year’s Clinton Global Initiative meeting is the need to move from corporate social responsibility as an “add-on” to core business operations to a model where responsibility is a principle at the heart of corporate decision-making.

There are still a lot of questions about the viability of Entreprise EthioPEA, both as a business venture and as a successful development initiative. For instance, if Pepsi develops locally-produced chickpea-based products for the Ethiopian market, will there be sufficient parallel investments in roads, infrastructure and distribution channels to make these new products available widely and affordably? In the long-term, will farmers be paid a decent price for their crop even as the production doubles? Will the government be willing to guarantee a minimum purchasing price?

While many questions remain unanswered, I remain generally supportive of innovative public-private partnerships such as this one. Corporations want to venture into new markets, creating new opportunities for historically disenfranchised farmers? I say, bring it. There is real potential for broad-based economic gains with this initiative – it’ll be worthwhile to see the progress of this initiative and if it holds up faced with short-term shareholder expectations.