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PepsiCo sues potato farmers for growing the variety used for Lays Chips

The Gujarat Khedut Samaj and several activists are standing firm behind the farmers. The Khedut Samaj has claimed that PepsiCo cannot claim intellectual property rights over the FC-5 used in its branded chips.

The multinational company, Pepsico, has sued 9 potato farmers for growing and selling a potato variety used in the Lay’s chips. The case would be heard in a court in Ahmedabad on April 26.

As per reports, in the litigation filed by Pepsico, they claimed, “This was done to protect our rights and safeguard the larger interest of farmers that are engaged with us and who are using and benefitting from seeds of our registered variety.” The company is suing 9 farmers of Gujarat in the case.

Farmer activists, on the other hand, approached the agriculture and farmers welfare ministry on Thursday to publicly support the farmer’s rights under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001 and to immediately withdraw cases filed by PepsiCo India Holdings. They accused Pepsico of intimidating the farmers and infringing upon the rights of small farmers.

PepsiCo claims to have obtained the exclusive rights over a potato variety called FC-5.

In a letter sent to Ministry, the activists have said that the farmers have every right to produce and sell a protected variety of seeds and that Pepsico can’t claim intellectual property right on it. The letter also sought funds from the government.

“Provide from the National Gene Fund the costs of legal suits that the farmers are having to face, until the time that the cases are withdrawn by PepsiCo. Issue a notification that no company can trespass into a farmer’s field without due intimation of the local district agriculture office and the farmer’s prior informed consent,” it said.

Farmers cite the Section 39 of the PPV&FR Act, 2001 which reportedly says that a farmer is allowed “To save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under the Act” so long as he does not sell “branded seed”. On the other hand, Pepsico claims that its rights were being infringed upon by citing Section 64 of the same Act.

The President of Gujarat Khedut Samaj, Jayesh Patel said that in the previous year, Pepsico had a contract-farming agreement for producing a particular potato variety. The farmers had used the potatoes that were rejected by the company, as substandard produce, as seeds to grow their own produce this year. The company is suing them for this and seeks royalty from them.

Badribhai Joshi of the Gujarat Khedut Samaj said “These are among the first cases of alleged IPR infringement against farmers in India in a post-WTO world. Wrongly decided, these could set a wrong precedent impacting farmers’ livelihoods quite adversely”.

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