During this summer PepsiCo has been in agricultural news for a number of projects that portrays the mega-food and drink company as an expert in sustainable agricultural production of nearly any and every type of crop grown in the world.

Two years ago, Coca Cola Company had speakers making presentations to groups about sustainable agriculture with a focus on improving the production of ingredients used in the company’s focus of beverages, mainly juices. Now, PepsiCo has taken the lead in promoting itself as a leader in sustainable agriculture of a wider variety of crops, which is natural because of its ownership of 19 different product lines with the biggest being Quaker, Frito-Lay and beverage brands. Similar to most large multinational corporations, PepsiCo has its charitable foundation, and agricultural projects appear to be the beneficiaries of more foundation funding.

Yesterday, the PepsiCo Foundation announced a public-private partnership aimed at dramatically increasing chickpea production and increasing food security of Ethiopia. The other partners are the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The program, being called Enterprise EthioPEA, will support the Ethiopian government’s agriculture sector development plans. The EthioPEA program aims to help 10,000 Ethiopian farmers to double their chickpea production by “applying more modern agricultural practices and irrigation techniques” so that chickpeas are available for the country’s population and for export.

The news release explains that this program fits within PepsiCo’s long-range agricultural plans. “For PepsiCo, chickpea-based products are an important part of the company’s strategy to build a $30 billion global nutrition business by 2020.”

The company sways toward crop production being more appropriate for investment than animal, meat production. “With an average of 22 percent protein, chickpeas are a more sustainable alternative to meat and have the potential to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease and diabetes,” it was announced.

The full explanation of PepsiCo’s agricultural focus was provided in a one-sentence statement. “PepsiCo’s investment in Enterprise EthioPEA is part of a global strategy to make the company a leader in sustainable agriculture around the world, and the latest example of the company’s proven and transferable market-based model, which advances healthy nutrition and long-term financial performance.”

Earlier in the week prior to the EthipPEA announcement, PepsiCo announced it will work with the Chinese government to “help Chinese farmers learn the latest techniques in agriculture,” reported the Associated Press. This arrangement was finalized with the signing of a memo with China’s Ministry of Agriculture.

The Chinese project will take the form of building “demonstration farms” to test and showcase the newest  “techniques in irrigation, fertilization and crop management.” One of the goals is to improve the Chinese farmers’ standard of living.

PepsiCo noted it had already assisted Chinese potato farmers to reduce the amount of water used while also increasing yields. With past and present investment, PepsiCo reported it will have invested $3.5 billion from the beginning of 2008 through the new demonstration farms project.

In mid-summer, PepsiCo announced it was rolling out its new i-crop farming technology Web-based tool developed in conjunction with Cambridge University, for first use in the United Kingdom and Europe. Successful implementation will eventually result in the program being part of the Chinese demonstration farms plus become part of PepsiCo’s involvement in agricultural production in Australia, India and Mexico. There also have been rumors fanned by PepsiCo executives about U.S. projects.

The i-crop was described as “a crop management system that will enable PepsiCo’s farmers around the world to monitor, manage and reduce their water use and carbon emissions, while also maximizing potential yield and quality.”

It was reported with the announcement of i-crop that the company had developed 15 global goals and commitments to guide its goals of protecting the earth’s natural resources “through innovation and more efficient use of land, energy, water and packaging.”

PepsiCo executive’s express the reason for PepsiCo’s involvement in showing farmers how to grow crops in statements similar to that attributed to Richard Evans, president of PepsiCo U.K. and Ireland. “Farming is in the DNA of our business. We rely on fresh produce every day. Finding ways to produce more food with less environmental impact is essential to our future.”

A PepsiCo executive is scheduled to address the Agricultural Retailers Association annual conference November 30.