Potato farmer, Gujarat

Recently food and beverages company PepsiCo dragged potato farmers of Gujarat to court for allegedly growing its registered potato variety used to make ‘Lays’ chips. Four small farmers from Sabarkantha district were sued ₹1.05 crore each, although they cite a law allowing them to grow and sell even registered plant varieties. Faced with growing social media outrage, boycott calls from farmers groups and condemnation from major political parties, the company finally agreed to withdraw cases after talks with the Gujarat government.

Background:

1. In 2009, PepsiCo introduced, the FC5 variety of potato that it uses to make its popular ‘Lays’ potato chips to India. The potato variety is grown by approximately 12,000 farmers who are a part of the company’s collaborative farming programme, wherein the company sells seeds to farmers and has an exclusive contract to buy back their produce.



2. In 2016, the company registered the variety under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001 (PPV&FRA).

3. Finding that farmers who were not part of its collaborative farming programme were also growing and selling potatoes of this variety in Gujarat, PepsiCo filed rights infringement cases under the Act against some farmers in Sabarkantha, Banaskantha and Aravalli districts in 2018 and 2019.

Legal basis for the suit:

1. Both PepsiCo and the farmers cite the same Act to support their opposing positions.

2. The PPV&FRA was enacted in 2001 to comply with the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

3. PepsiCo based its suits on Section 64 of the Act dealing with infringements of the registered breeder’s rights and subsequent penalties.

4. The farmers’ legal case depended on Section 39 of the Act, which allows the cultivator to “save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this Act” with the sole exception of branded seed. As this section begins with the words “Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act…”, farmers claim their rights have precedence.

Note: Over the last decade, more than 3,600 plant varieties have been registered under the Act, with more than half of the registration certificates going to farmers themselves. This was the first case of infringement of rights under the Act, according to the central agency set up to implement the Act.


Source: The Hindu