Demystifier: An ED Original where we take a complex topic but the content is written in such a way that it is knowledgeable and easy to comprehend at the same time.
At a time when farmers income are plunging below the acceptable levels, food and beverage giant PepsiCo, is suing some farmers from Gujarat for illegally growing and selling an exclusive variety of potatoes that are used for producing its Lays potato chips.
As many as nine farmers from Sabarkantha and Aravalli districts have been sued by the Indian subsidiary of the company, claiming their Plant Variety Protection (PVP) rights. Among those are four farmers who have been asked to pay Rs1.05 crore each for producing a potato variety, commonly called the FC5.
These farmers have small independent farmlands in backward towns of Gujarat, and with farmers not able to meet their basic needs, is this morally right to ask them for a penalty of Rs.1.05 crore?
To do their bit for the farmer population of India and at the same time get the best of produce for their products, PepsiCo has been developing and registering various kinds of potatoes that are being used in their products, popularly Lays.
As a part of this initative, the company is working with over 24,000 farmers in states like Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab, West Bengal etc. These farmers are in turn granted license to produce the FC5.
These farmers then sell all of their produce to the company at pre-decided prices. FC5 are popular because of its lower water content (80%) as compared to other type of potatoes which have water up to 85%, thus making it easier to process FC5.
Does the PPVFR Act protect the farmers?
The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001 (PPVFR) allows farmers some leeway. The Act says that farmers can save, use, sow, re-sow, exchange, share, and sell their farm produce, including a seed protected under the Act. But they cannot sell a protected variety in a branded form.
According to the All India Farmers Forum (AIFF) the above stated law protects the farmers right to grow and sell registered crops and that PepsiCo’s case violates this law.
We are not interested in FC 5 over which they claim registration,” says Anand Yagnik, the lawyer who is representing the defendants.
“They have obtained the seed through customary and conventional methods from friends and relatives.” He also points out that his clients are “not interested in FC 5 or anything that violates the law”.
What are the defendants saying?
Bipin Patel, one of the farmers told Reuters, “We have been growing potatoes for many years and never did we face such a problem. We mostly use the seeds saved from one harvest to plant the next year’s crop”.
The farmers have challenged PepsiCo to prove that the sample which tested positive belonged from their field. One farmer claims that he has no knowledge about FC5 and that he obtained the seeds from his friends circle.
A farmer among the defendants claims to be producing ATL (short for Atlanta), a US royal-free variety seed which is similar to the FC5. He further reiterates that he grows his seeds scientifically to get higher yield. Other experts seem to think that this confusion could have been caused because of the similarity between ATL and FC5.
After facing backlash PepsiCo now asks for a settlement
The social media was full of criticism for PepsiCo. People are of the opinion that implementing their Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) to revoke the use of FC5 potatoes is the right thing to do but the step to sue the farmers is uncalled for, considering PepsiCo is a billion dollar company.
At a court hearing on 26th April, a company spokeperson told CNN about the settlement offer.
“Either join us, or grow other potatoes and this way we are willing to let go of the case”.
The company has agreed to buy the FC5 produce from these farmers and get into a contract with them for further produce.
The farmer’s lawyer has now asked for time to consider PepsiCo’s offer, with the parties expected to return to the court on 12th June.
In other news, the Gujarat government has said that it will intervene in the suit on behalf of the farmers. This way we can see an equal playing field between the two giants rather than having small farmers defend against PepsiCo. The Gujarat government should break a peace deal among the parties and settle the dispute quickly.
Image Credits: Google Images
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