Pepsi backs off in row with potato farmers

  • PepsiCo withdraws lawsuits amid social media boycott calls, government pressure
  • PepsiCo filed the lawsuits in an Ahmedabad court last month, asking it to restrain the farmers from growing the potato variety

New Delhi: The local unit of PepsiCo on Thursday agreed to withdraw lawsuits against potato farmers it had sued for infringing its patents, backtracking from its position amid government pressure and calls for boycott of its products on social media.

The Gujarat government intervened in the matter after the dispute over farming a patented potato variety, FC5, escalated into a conflict between the multinational beverage and snack maker and local farmers.

“After discussions with the government, the company has agreed to withdraw cases against farmers. We are relying on the said discussions to find a long-term and an amicable resolution of all issues around seed protection," a PepsiCo India spokesperson said in a statement on Thursday.

PepsiCo filed the lawsuits in an Ahmedabad court last month, asking it to restrain the farmers from growing the potato variety.

PepsiCo’s announcement that it was withdrawing the cases came a day after Gujarat deputy chief minister Nitin Patel told reporters that the state government was working on an out-of-court settlement of the cases filed by PepsiCo against the nine farmers.

“The government is trying to ensure that the issue is resolved outside the court properly and as per the law, in a manner that it is helpful to farmers," news wire PTI reported, citing Patel.

Farmer rights activists termed PepsiCo’s decision to withdraw the cases a victory for farmers.

“Seed freedoms have remained unaffected in this case due to farmers’ organizations and citizen pressure. Farmers hope that PepsiCo and others would have learnt a good lesson about farmers’ rights in India’s PPV & FR Act, 2001 from this episode and hope that such harassment of farmers will not get repeated," said Kavitha Kuruganti, co-convener of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture.

In April, the maker of Lay’s chips took four farmers from Sabarkantha district of Gujarat to court over claims that they illegally cultivated the FC5 variety of potatoes for which PepsiCo has claimed plant variety protection (PVP) rights. These farmers were sued to the tune of 1 crore. Earlier, PepsiCo had sued five farmers from the Aravalli district of the state.

PepsiCo obtained rights to grow the FC5 variety of potato under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV & FR) Act, 2001 in 2016. These potatoes are used by the company to make its Lay’s brand of chips in India.

Various farmer organizations and activists voiced their support for the farmers in Gujarat and sought the intervention of the Union government to convince PepsiCo to withdraw the case.

In a statement late last month, PepsiCo India offered farmers to become part of its collaborative potato farming programme. “In case they do not wish to join this programme, they can simply sign an agreement and grow other available varieties of potatoes," the company had said.

“The company was compelled to take the judicial recourse as a last resort to safeguard the larger interest of thousands of farmers that are engaged with its collaborative potato farming programme. PepsiCo India remains deeply committed to resolving the matter and ensuring adoption of best farming practices," added PepsiCo’s statement on Thursday.

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