It’s a hot potato for PepsiCo and farmers

The corporate giant claims that the farmers are cultivating their proprietary FC5 potatoes without permission

Published: Monday 29 April 2019

PepsiCo sued potato farmers in Gujarat for Rs 1.05 crore each over patent infringement. The corporate giant has claimed that the farmers are cultivating their proprietary FC5 potatoes without permission. 

This variety of potatoes is designed to be low in moisture and sugar content compared to other spuds, and is used for making the trademark product: Lay’s. It’s a huge amount for the accused farmers, who all have small farms in the state.

Fighting the case, farmer groups have approached the agriculture and farmer welfare ministry accusing PepsiCo India of intimidating them. They have asked the ministry to put out a public statement upholding farmers’ rights under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act, 2001, and to direct PepsiCo India Holdings to withdraw the cases. 

The Farmers Rights Act 2001 allows farmers to save, use, sow, exchange or sell farm produce as long as they do not sell branded seed. All India Farmers’ Forum (AIFF) is also backing the farmers on the issue, and said that Indian agricultural laws protect the farmers’ rights to grow and sell registered crops.

AIFF demanded that Pepsi immediately withdraw its lawsuits and apologise to the peasants. They have also called for a nationwide boycott of all Lay’s products.

Farmer groups are also accusing PepsiCo of trespassing into a farmer’s field without due intimation of the local district agriculture office and the farmers’ prior informed consent.  

Facing boycott calls, PepsiCo has offered to settle the case on any of these terms: The farmers should stop growing the registered potato variety and surrender their existing stocks or enter PepsiCo’s collaborative farming programme where farmers buy seeds from the company and sell the produce back to it. 

The farmers’ counsel has asked for time to consider Pepsi’s offer, and the parties are expected to return to court on June 12.

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