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People Boycotting PepsiCo After It Sued Farmers Over Patented Potatoes May Have Saved the Day

The multinational company, which was demanding damages of over 10 million from four farmers in India, gave in to public pressure and offered to settle.
SJ
Mumbai, IN
April 26, 2019, 2:23pm
potatoes farms india
Photo via REUTERS/Jayanta Dey

Haters gonna hate and potatoes gonna potate, but in this week’s developments, the two phrases seemingly came together.

Earlier this week, PepsiCo Holdings tried to sue some farmers over the intellectual property rights of a (drum roll, please) potato! Yes, you heard that right.

However, after facing immense pressure and criticism from farmers’ groups and activists, and over social media, PepsiCo Holdings has finally given in and offered a settlement to the Indian farmers it was trying to sue.

The multinational company was suing four farmers in the Indian state of Gujarat over claims that they have been growing a variety of potatoes that has been exclusively copyrighted by the company for their Lay's chips. Saying the four farmers were not among the thousands authorised to grow this specific variety, the multinational was suing them for a sum of Rs 10 million ($143,000) each. The food and beverages giant claimed they had infringed on its rights, according to Section 64 of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001.

But this move sort of backfired when farmers’ unions, activists and social media users not only cited Section 39 of the same Act (which states that a farmer is allowed “to save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this Act” so long as he does not sell the “branded seed”) but also called for a boycott on Pepsi products in India.

PepsiCo’s actions go "against food sovereignty" and the "sovereignty of the nation," said Kapil Shah of Jatan, one of the advocacy groups fighting for the farmers, to CNN Business. And the fact that we’re in the midst of an agrarian crisis has made these farmers’ groups even more protective. They also said that this potato crop came from far-saved seeds and had been accessed locally in 2018 without any knowledge of it being copyrighted.

The farmers are also pissed that PepsiCo hired a private detective agency to carry out a ‘sting operation’ against the small farmers, by posing as potential buyers.

Ashok Dhawale, the leader of India’s largest farmers organisation All India Kisan Sabha, told The Citizen that the situation has created panic amongst Indian farmers, especially in the unorganised agrarian sector in Gujarat. Calling it a sinister move on the part of the multinational, he claimed it was their way to bring India’s agricultural sector under their control, which will affect food security.

After a hearing today at the Ahmedabad civil court, PepsiCo finally backed down and offered to grant these four farmers the license to grow the potatoes. They have asked the farmers to either give an undertaking saying they will not use its registered variety and destroy all existing stocks, or enter into PepsiCo's collaborative farming programme and sell the produce back to the company.

But while it’s bad enough that a multinational worth many millions wants to sue four small farmers for stealing the intellectual property rights of, well, a potato, what makes it worse is that it took a social media shitstorm and the possible fear of getting worse PR that made the company do a half-decent thing. As you sow, so shall you reap.

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