Farmer leaders and activists in Gujarat have launched a protest against US food and beverages giant PepsiCo sued nine farmers in Gujrat for illegally growing and selling a kind of potato exclusively registered under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001. PepsiCo claims that it has sole rights to grow the particular variety of tubers for the manufacture of its Lay’s brand of chips.
A group of farmer organisations and activists have launched protest against PepsiCo India after the MNC filed lawsuits against four potato growers from Sabarkantha district for allegedly growing a variety of potato — FL 2027, also called FC5 — on which PepsiCo claimed exclusive rights by virtue of a Plant Variety Certificate (PVC) under the Act.
The four farmers — with a land holding of 3-4 acres — were slapped with a lawsuit of Rs 1 crore each for an “estimated damage” to PepsiCo arising from the alleged infringement of its IPR. The lawsuits were filed in the Commercial Court at the City Civil Court and the farmers were warned to stop growing and selling of potatoes until the next hearing is scheduled for April 26.
Ambubhai Patel, National Vice-President, BKS said, “The PepsiCo’s claims are untenable. This is an attempt to intimidate farmers and wipe out competition in the chips market. We demand that the company immediately and unconditionally withdraw all the cases that it initiated in various courts against farmers.” He also mentioned that the company had wrongfully used private detective agencies to entrap farmers by creating secret video to implicate them.
The Court has observed that “At this stage, it appears the Plaintiff (PepsiCo) has prima facie case in its favour” and admitted the company’s claim that if the farmers are not temporarily stayed from growing and selling these potatoes, it would suffer “irreparable loss and it would defeat the justice.”
On PepsiCo’s request, the court also appointed a Court Commissioner to conduct an inquiry into the dispute, prepare inventory of potato, take samples and send it to government laboratories and the Potato Research Centre at Shimla for analysis. However, the company had already conducted analysis on the samples collected on its own and found that farmers were growing the registered variety.