(Bloomberg)
(Bloomberg)

Activists say more needs to be done to secure farmers' seeds rights

  • PepsiCo on Thursday withdrew lawsuits against several Indian farmers after alleging that farmers in Gujarat had illegally grown a variety of potato exclusive to the company
  • In 2011, PepsiCo introduced the FC5 variety of potato in India

New Delhi: On Thursday food and beverage maker PepsiCo withdrew lawsuits against several Indian farmers after alleging that farmers in Gujarat had illegally grown a variety of potato exclusive to the company.

Even as the dispute now seems to be coming to an end, lawyers and farmers’ rights activists say more work needs to be done to secure farmers’ seed rights.

"We need to restrategise and look at ways of ensuring such anomalies are not repeated," said Shalini Bhutani, a legal researcher and policy analyst. “Ideally we should have something coming out from the authorities, particularly the protection of plant variety and farmer rights authority (that issues plant variety certificates which grant the IPR and is also responsible for implementation of farmer rights) to ensure that these cases are not repeated," Bhutani added.

In 2011, PepsiCo introduced the FC5 variety of potato in India, but it was in 2016 that it registered the particular variety of seeds under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001, giving it the exclusive rights to grow the variety used in its Lay’s brands of chips.

However, in April this year, it took four farmers in the state of Gujarat to court over allegations that they had used the variety of potato outside the purview of the company.

This drew flack from farmer rights activists who argued that the act under which PepsiCo registered the FC5 variety allows farmers to plant, grow, exchange and sell patent-protected crops, including seeds, and only bars them from selling them as branded seed.

“This specific section of the sui generis statute that India brought in in 2001 provides an entitlement to farmers of India to cultivate any variety that they would like to, including PVP-registered varieties. It is clear that Section 39(1)(iv) is applicable irrespective of source of seed, type of seed, type of registrant, type of crop, and to whom and how the harvest was sold," Alliance for Sustainable and holistic agriculture or ASHA, a not-for-profit that works towards sustainable agriculture, said in a May 2 statement.

On PepsiCo’s decision to withdraw the case, while ASHA saw the move as positive for the country’s farming community, it added that the government should put in place clear mechanisms to avoid a repetition of such episodes in future. "Farmers’ seed freedoms should continue as per Indian law and should be upheld. For this, all certificates of registration should explicitly state that such a certificate and any rights associated with it are conditional upon certain other sections of the legislation, with Section 39 (1) (iv) being one such important condition," Kavitha Kuruganti, co-convenor, ASHA, said in a statement released last evening.

Additionally, it maintained that PepsiCo should have apologised for the intimidation and harassment of farmers in this case, and it should have been penalised for adopting these tactics. PepsiCo should also pay compensation to the farmers it sued," ASHA added in its statement.

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