Battle of rights: PepsiCo offers a settlement to sued potato growers

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Published: April 27, 2019 4:25:57 AM

Nine farmers from Sabarkantha and Aravalli districts in north Gujarat were being dragged to court for allegedly growing a variety of potatoes for which the company has claimed Plant Variety Protection (PVP) rights.

PepsiCo, potato growers, Gujarat, Sabarkantha, Aravalli districts,  Plant Variety Protection rights, Lays Chips, Intellectual Property RightsPepsiCo approached the court armed with Plant Variety Certificate under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Right Act, 2001, terming the act violation of intellectual property rights.

Food and beverages giant PepsiCo on Friday offered to settle lawsuits against nine Gujarat-based farmers whom it had filed suits over the issue of growing and selling a particular variety of potato. During a hearing in the commercial court here on Friday, PepsiCo said either the farmers should give an undertaking that they would not use the registered variety or they should sign an agreement to purchase the specific variety of seeds from the company, and thereafter sell the potato produced from it.

Nine farmers from Sabarkantha and Aravalli districts in north Gujarat were being dragged to court for allegedly growing a variety of potatoes for which the company has claimed Plant Variety Protection (PVP) rights. Reacting to the company’s suggestion, the advocate representing farmers, Anandvardhan Yagnik, submitted to the court the proposal to be given to farmers, saying a reply would be sent to the company based on what groers want to do. Yagnik also filed ‘vakalatnama’ on behalf of all the farmers in the four suits and sought time to file reply. After hearing both the sides, the commercial court has scheduled the next hearing for June 12, 2019.

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PepsiCo approached the court armed with Plant Variety Certificate under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Right Act, 2001, terming the act violation of intellectual property rights. The global food and beverages behemoth uses a particular variety of potato for manufacturing of Lay’s Chips. The company has claimed that the farmers have been growing FL2027 variety potato, for which PepsiCo has exclusive rights to grow and sell. The variety is also known as FC5.

Acting on PepsiCo’s suit, the commercial court in Ahmedabad stopped the North Gujarat farmers from growing or selling the particular variety of potatoes. The court had also sought replies from them on the allegations levelled by PepsiCo.

Potato growers have banded together to fight for their cause. Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) and couple of NGOs, including Vadodara-based ‘Jatan’ and Ahmedabad-based ‘Loknaad’ openly came out in support of the farmers.
They also demanded immediate withdrawal of legal suits filed by the food and beverages giant.

PepsiCo India, on the other hand, sought the Centre’s immediate intervention on the matter. BKS national vice-president Ambubhai Patel said the company’s claims were untenable, and only meant to intimidate farmers in order to establish monopoly in the potato chips market.

Patel went on to say that the multinational had wrongfully utilised services of private detective agencies to entrap peasants by doing clandestine videography. “We demand, the company must withdraw all cases against potato growers unconditionally,” he added.

Kapil Shah of Jatan said, in compliance with World Trade Organisation (WTO), India too had passed a law related to Intellectual Property Rights and, under the law, farmers have rights to seeds and planting material irrespective of any other clause in the Act. With support of BKS and other two NGOs, a letter signed by 192 potato growers has been sent a letter to Dr K V Prabhu, chairperson, Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority, ministry of agriculture and farmers’ welfare, and urged him to take immediate steps in the matter.

(With inputs from PTI)

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