Following global outrage and a boycott campaign, food and beverages giant PepsiCo was forced to withdraw the lawsuit it had filed against 9 Indian farmers in April. PepsiCo had alleged that the farmers had grown a variety of potato that was exclusively for use in its Lays brand of potato chips. Campaigns to boycott Lays had begun across the country after news of the lawsuit came out.
“After discussions with the government, the company has agreed to withdraw the cases against the farmers. The company is relying on the said discussions to find a long term and an amicable resolution of all issues around seed protection,” PepsiCo India said in a statement. PepsiCo had sued four formers to the tune of INR 1 crore (around USD 172,000) while five others were sued for INR 20 lakhs (around USD 28,650) each.
The company invoked Section 64 of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001 to claim infringement its rights. Farmers organizations were quick to cite Section 39 of the same Act, which grants farmers the right “to save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell [their] farm produce, including seed of a variety protected under this Act, so long as [they] do not sell “branded seed”.”
In response to the massive campaign led by farmers organizations, including the All India Kisan Sabha, PepsiCo tried to approach the farmers for an out-of-court settlement under certain conditions. The company wanted the farmers to sign an agreement for buying the registered potato seeds and selling the produce only to the company. During a hearing on April 26, the company demanded that the farmers “give an undertaking that they would never buy and sow the said registered variety of FC-5 potato seeds in future”.
However, the farmers’ representatives rejected the settlement and demanded that all cases be withdrawn immediately. Finally, the company had to give in. Activists said the legal suit was a show of might. “They did not expect such a backlash,” a member of the Khedut Ekta Manch, said.
Vinod Patel and Hari Patel, two of the farmers who were sued, told the media that they suspected that the company’s main intention was to bind the farmers in a contract. PepsiCo is trying to set up a food processing unit in Sabarkantha district, where some of the farmers hail from.
“Right now, my condition is such that I can’t even pay for my own food. I have no savings. My entire groundnut crop was destroyed because of no rainfall. I can’t even afford to pay you INR 10,000 (USD 144) from where I would have paid INR 1.05 crore (USD 172,000) to the company?” another farmer asked.