Agriculture

PepsiCo vs potato farmers: ‘Gujarat will fail farmers if it succumbs to corporate lobbying’

Activists oppose govt’s attempt to settle the matter with the company

 
By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Thursday 02 May 2019

Photo: Shutter Ferret/Flickr

UPDATE: According to media reports, PepsiCo India has, on May 2, 2019, agreed to withdraw its lawsuit against farmers in Gujarat whom it had accused of infringing its patent. Farmers’ rights activists have called it a major victory only if it’s unconditional.

They say PepsiCo should have apologised to farmers for harassing them and paid them a compensation. “We also believe that the government should put into place clear mechanisms to avoid a repetition of this episode in future. For this, all Certificates of Registration should explicitly state that such a Certificate and any rights associated with it are conditional to certain other sections of Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers Rights (PPV&FR) Act 2001,” say the activists.

The Gujarat government must not opt for an out-of-court settlement with PepsiCo as the Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers Rights (PPV&FR) Act 2001 lets farmers cultivate any variety they like to, including the patented variety of potatoes, say activists.

The food and beverage multinational recently sued farmers in Gujarat for cultivating their proprietary FC5 variety of potatoes that are used to make Lay’s chips. This variety is designed to have less moisture and sugar content than other spuds.

Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), a farmers’ rights advocacy platform, opposed the state’s attempt to settle the matter saying the Act is applicable irrespective of the source of seed, type of seed, type of registrant, type of crop, and to who and how the harvest was sold.

“There should be absolutely no compromise on farmers’ rights and seed sovereignty. The state government should make the Act as the basis of any settlement, if at all, and anything less than that is unacceptable. It would have failed all the farmers in India and not just the sued farmers if it succumbs to corporate lobbying,” said Kapil Shah of Vadodara-based NGO Jatan Trust.

The state is talking about settling outside the court after Deputy Chief Minister Nitinbhai Ratilal Patel, on April 27, 2019, said the state would implead in the case.

PepsiCo had also proposed to settle in the last court hearing on April 26. The corporate giant’s offer had two terms. One, farmers should stop growing the registered potato variety and surrender their existing stocks. And if they wished to continue, they must enter PepsiCo’s collaborative farming programme where they buy seeds from the company and sell the produce back to it.

“PepsiCo should withdraw the cases unconditionally, explicitly acknowledging that its rights under the law are indeed subject to farmers’ rights. It is PepsiCo that should be asked to sign an undertaking that this will not happen to our farmers again. It should apologise to the defendant-farmers and compensate them adequately for trespassing their farms, breaching their privacy, video-recording without farmer’s knowledge, intimidation, unnecessary expenses and harassment they have been subjected to,” said Kavitha Kuruganti of ASHA.

The All India Farmers’ Forum (AIFF) had also earlier demanded that PepsiCo immediately withdraw its lawsuits and apologise to the Indian peasants.

“PepsiCo India should understand that this is India and not USA, where hundreds of farmers have been sued by giant seed industry like Monsanto Inc that has milked millions of dollars from farmers,” Kuruganti added.

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