PepsiCo, an American multinational which produces soft drinks and snacks, has sued four Gujarati potato farmers. The company asked the farmers to pay Rs 4.02 crores for ‘infringing its rights’ by growing the potato variety used in Lays chips which is a product of the company. The company filed a lawsuit and the case will be heard in Ahmedabad court. Gujarat government has stood for the farmers and it will join the ongoing legal battle to fight for the potato farmers. We will be joining in the matter as a party to support farmers,” said a top government official.
In last few years, potato production in Gujarat has grown at a very healthy rate. It produces 33 lakh tonnes from the 1.21 hectares of land dedicated to potato farming. Banaskantha, a district in northern Gujarat became the largest potato producing district in the country by overtaking Agra district in western Uttar Pradesh.
The next hearing of the case is in Ahmedabad civil court on June 12 and PepsiCo has already offered to settle the case. The company fears boycott by the consumers given the angry reaction against lawsuit on social media. The company has offered two options before the farmers – the first one suggests that the farmers will not use the registered exclusive variety further and destroy the existing stocks. The second settlement suggests that farmers involve in collaborative corporate farming where they will purchase the seeds from the company and sell the produce to them.
Whatever result comes out of the court case, it would be a landmark decision, given the importance of the case. “These are among the first cases of alleged IPR (Intellectual property rights) infringement against farmers in India in a post-WTO world. Wrongly decided, these could set a wrong precedent impacting farmers’ livelihoods quite adversely,” said Badribhai Joshi of the Gujarat Khedut Samaj. This case which involves farmers and PepsiCo will set the precedent for the intellectual property rights in food varieties in the country.
The farmers asked the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority (PPV&FRA) to make submission on their behalf and fund the legal proceedings through National Gene Fund. “These farmers are small, holding around 3-4 acres on an average, and had grown a potato crop from farm-saved seed after they accessed the potato seed locally in 2018,” read the letter sent to PPV&FRA.
Agriculture has grown exponentially after Modi assumed the power in the state. The growth of agricultural produce was in double-digits in state in last one and a half decade. The opposition has accused Modi government of being anti-farmer. But it is the Modi government which implemented PM-KISAN under which more than 12 crore farmers’ families would get 6,000 rupees per year. The pro-framer stance of the Gujarat government helped the agriculture to grow at double-digit rate. The farmers in Gujarat are in better condition compared to any other state of the country. The state became largest cotton producer under BJP government. Other states can learn from Gujarat on agricultural practices and policies.