PepsiCo Sues Farmers For Growing Lays Variety Potatoes, Demands Rs 1.05 Crore Each
Last week multi-billion dollar company PepsiCo had sued nine Gujarati farmers, fining them Rs 1.05 crore as damages. The fine was levied for growing a potato variety used to make Lays chips owned by the company. PepsiCo has defended the step taken by the company on the ground that it is done to protect the interest of the company and of the farmers working with them.
Now the farmer groups and activists have launched a campaign demanding for intervention by the government into the case. An Ahmedabad court will hear the case on April 26.
Those nine sued are reportedly small farmers owning about 3-4 acres of land on an average. They have approached the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority (PPV&FRA). They have asked PPV&FRA to submit in the court on their behalf and fund the legal cost under the National Gene Found.
Reportedly, PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt Ltd has told the court that FL 2027 is a variety of potato, which is the hybrid of FL 1867 and the Wischip varieties. PepsiCo uses it for production of the Lays chips.
This variety has been commercially used in India since 2009 under the trademark FC5. A few farmers in Punjab were granted the license to grow the variety on the buyback system. In the court, PepsiCo said that it was tipped off about few farmers in Gujarat growing this variety in January. The results from the in-house laboratory, Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) and Central Potato Research Institute in Shimla, confirmed the suspicion, the company said. After this, the company filed cases of IPR infringements.
Activists back farmers
Activists have pledged the support to the farmers. In a press release, the Farmer Unions and Civil Society Representatives have quoted Section 39(1) (iv) of the PPV&FR Act 2001 on Chapter VI on Farmer Rights’. This section says that “a farmer shall be deemed to be entitled to save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this Act in the same manner as he was entitled before the coming into the force of this Act, provided that the farmer shall not be entitled to sell branded seed of a variety produced under this Act.”
The collective has also condemned the method adopted to ascertain whether or not the farmers are using the said variety. They have alleged that private detective agencies were used to “entrap farmers, to create secret video footage and take unauthorised samples from the farmers”. Badribhai Joshi of the Gujarat Khedut Samaj also said that this could set a wrong precedent and impact farmers’ livelihood adversely.
PepsiCo defends the legal action taken
The statement by PepsiCo India spokesperson says, “PepsiCo is India’s largest process grade potato buyer and amongst the first companies to work with thousands of local farmers to grow a specific protected variety of potatoes for it. The company’s collaborative potato farming program is best in class and is built on strong backward and forward linkages that improve livelihoods by using protected seeds. In this instance, we took judicial recourse against people who were illegally dealing in our registered variety. This was done to protect our rights and safeguard the larger interest of farmers that are engaged with us and who are using and benefitting from seeds of our registered variety.
We remain committed to resolving the matter and ensuring adoption of best farming practices resulting in higher yield and quality.”