Gujarat farmers sow potato seeds registered by PepsiCo, in symbolic protest

The multinational had sued four farmers in April, triggering a controversy that has now been reignited

By Jitendra
Published: Wednesday 27 November 2019
Photo: Wikipedia
Photo: Wikipedia Photo: Wikipedia

Farmers in Gujarat have sowed a variety of potato seeds registered by multinational PepsiCo, in a symbolic protest against the food and beverage corporation, a farmer leader told Down To Earth (DTE).

“In the last four days, more than 500 farmers have come forward to sow the FC-5 variety of seeds which our organisation supplied,” Vitthal Bhai, state President of the Bhratiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), said.

The BKS mobilised farmers across ten districts of Gujarat to sow the seeds, Vitthal Bhai claimed. Other farmers’ organisations like Gujarat Khedut Samaj and Gujarat Khedut Kisan Sabha have also supported the protest.

PepsiCo has registered FC-5 in its name at the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority (PPV&FRA), India’s plant varieties regulatory body.

The PPV&FRA was established in 2001 for protection of plant varieties, the rights of farmers and plant breeders and to encourage the development of new varieties of plants.

Controversy reignited

The move by the Gujarat farmers has re-ignited the controversy that started in April this year when PepsiCo India sued four farmers for a sum of Rs 1.05 crore, accusing them of having ‘infringed its rights’ by growing crops using FC-5 seeds.

PepsiCo uses the potatoes grown from this variety to make its popular product ‘Lays Chips’.

Following PepsiCo’s move, farmers’ organisations across Gujarat and other states launched a campaign against the multinational, demanding immediate government intervention.

After the Gujarat government stepped in, PepsiCo India withdrew its case. But the matter remained unsolved.

A farmers’ advocacy organisation Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) filed an application at PPV&FRA in June 2019, seeking revocation of the certificate granted to PepsiCo.

“Section 34 (f) of the PPV&FR Act allows registration to be revoked on the grounds that ‘the breeder has not complied with the provisions of this Act’” Vitthal Bhai said.

In response to this application, on September 19, the PepsiCo again reasserted its rights over growing and selling the FL 2027 potato, which it has trademarked as FC-5.

Kavitha Kuruganti, convener of ASHA, told DTE that she will file a response within two weeks.

Farmers accuse PepsiCo of having obtained a breeder certificate for the FC-5 potato variety through fraudulent means.

“This variety of potato has already been grown by farmers. PepsiCo’s registration is wrong and unethical,” Kapil Shah, a farmer leader, said.

In a similar case, PPV&FRA, in its recent ruling, revoked the registration of rose breeder Moerheim and Roses & Trading India Pvt Ltd over the rose variety, ‘Meiflemingue’. The revocation application was filed by International Flower Auction Banglore Ltd.

Shah explained that Section 28 of the PPV&FR Act provides exclusive right to the breeder. “But Section 39 of the Act also provides rights to the farmers to grow and sell a plant, if they have developed it,” he said.

 “We are hopeful that farmers would win in this case too,” Shah said.

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