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PepsiCo India Sues Nine Gujarat Farmers; Activists & Unions Extend Support

Tooba Maher
Tooba Maher

Farmer leaders and activists in Gujarat have started a protest against US food and beverages giant PepsiCo. It is the outcome after PepsiCo sued nine farmers in the state for illegally growing and selling a kind of potato exclusively registered by the company. 

It claims that it has sole rights to grow the particular variety of tubers for the manufacture of its Lay's brand of chips. These nine farmers belong to the Sabarkantha and Aravalli districts of Gujarat and each have about three to four acres of land on an average. 

A commercial court in Ahmedabad had directed the farmers last week, namely Chabilbhai Patel, Vinod Patel and Haribhai Patel to stop growing and selling the potatoes till April 26, the day of next hearing. The court has also asked for a response from the three over the company’s claims of infringing on its rights.  

However, on PepsiCo’s request, the commercial court also appointed advocate Paras Sukhwani as court commissioner to do an inquiry into the matter and prepare a report.  

More than 190 farmers, scientists, activists and unions from across the country have signed a protest letter in support of the sued individuals. According to Ambubhai Patel, Vice President of the Bharatiya Kishan Sangh, “Potato-growing farmers have nothing to worry and we can’t allow such intimidation as we will fight against it in court as well as on the streets if needed.”  

Though, PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt Ltd told the court that it uses a registered variety of potatoes called FL 2027, which is a hybrid of FL 1867 and Wischip varieties, to manufacture chips for its brand. It mentioned, “The company is the registered breeder of FL 2027 under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act, 2001 (PPV&FR Act).”  

It should be noted that this variety was first commercially used in India in 2009 and is under the trademark FC5. The company has granted licence to some farmers in Punjab to grow the variety on the buyback system.  

Hence, the company claimed that by growing these potatoes without licence, the farmers in Gujarat are violating its statutory right. 

PepsiCo also told the court it found out that the farmers growing this variety in January this year. The company collected samples and sent them for verification to its in-house laboratory as well as the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Shimla-based Central Potato Research Institute for DNA analysis. The results confirmed that the respondents were growing the registered variety. 

The court has now appointed Sukhwani to make an inventory, take samples and send them to the government laboratory and the Potato Research Centre for further analysis. It has also ordered police authorities to provide protection to Sukhwani, who will conduct videography and photography of the proceedings. 

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