Recently, PepsiCo made headlines for suing local farmers in Gujarat for growing a potato variant that had been patented by the brand. This variant of the potato, known as FC5, is what is used in order to make Lays Chips. When the global giant found 4 farmers growing these potatoes, they reacted strongly by suing them. A misguided action for many reasons. The first being that the plight of the average farmer in India is bad enough with corporate giants wanting to financially penalize them. The second being that there is a larger issue here – that farmers are now readier than ever to experiment with hybrid crops to cut down on labor costs. Though one cannot argue that intellectual property rights must be respected, one does wonder at the efficacy of placing such rights on common food items that can easily find their way into other hands.
As the problem began to escalate, the Gujarat government also entered the fray and threatened the multinational company with a total boycott. Being one of the biggest producers of snacks in India (after homegrown Haldiram), this was a risk that Pepsi simply could not take.
PepsiCo issued a statement saying that they are now withdrawing their legal action against farmers, however, they do hope that the government will be willing to cooperate with matters related to hybrid seed production. One of the reasons why PepsiCo withdrew their case was because the government of Gujarat had tried to resolve the matter with the company outside the court, in a matter that was also supposed to be fair to the farmers in question.
Kavitha Kuruganti, who is the co-convener of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, commented about this issue to the media. She said “Seed freedoms have remained unaffected in this case due to farmers’ organizations and citizen pressure. Farmers hope that PepsiCo and others would have learned a good lesson about farmers’ rights in India’s PPV & FR Act, 2001 from this episode and hope that such harassment of farmers will not get repeated,”
What do you think about this issue? Is it wrong for a giant like PepsiCo to target farmers in this way?