THE CITIZEN BUREAU | 26 APRIL, 2019
PepsiCo Sues Small Farmers for Potatoes - #Boycott Pepsi Trends As Activists Join Farmers Protest
Rs 1.05 crores cases slapped against farmers in Gujarat
NEW DELHI: #WeDontWantThisJunk #BoycottPepsi has started trending on the social media as activists, aghast over PepsiCo’s case against four Gujarati farmers for growing the potato variety reportedly used in its Lays chips, have joined the farmers in support. The multi billion crore multinational is sueing India’s small and medium farmers with 3-4 acres of land for Rs 1.05 crores each, with the case heard in an Ahmedabad court today. The farmers have asked for time with the next hearing fixed for June 12.
Farmers bodies have come out in strong protest against PepsiCo calling for a boycott on its products, in particular Lays chips. Ashok Dhawale who leads India’s largest farmers organisation All India Kisan Sabha told The Citizen that this move had created panic amongst the farmers, more so in Gujarat where the agrarian sector is largely unorganised. He said that this was a sinister move by the multinationals to strangle India’s agrarian sector and bring it under control. It is an issue of the country’s food security, with the big companies trying to use such measures to control the hinterland, he added.
PepsiCo has claimed this particular strain of potatoes as its own, claiming it was India’s largest potato buyer and had been working with farmers to grow “a specific protected variety of potatoes”. And that these farmers were not part of the program. A statement issued by the company further added, ““In this instance, we took judicial recourse against people who were illegally dealing in our registered variety. This was done to protect our rights and safeguard the larger interest of farmers that are engaged with us and who are using and benefiting from seeds of our registered variety.”
These “people” are small farmers, working on their small fields to eke a living. They had grown a potato crop from far-saved seed and had accessed the potato seed locally in 2018, according to the farmers organisations. According to them, PepsiCo had hired a private detective agency to carry out a ‘sting operation’ against the small farmers, by posing as potential buyers. Samples were collected from the fields without the agency disclosing the real intent, and the fact that it was working for PepsiCo. The farmers organisations claim that at least nine farmers in three districts have been so charged over the past one year.
Gujarat Khedut Samak under Badribhai Joshi has taken on the task of organising the farmers in recent weeks. Joshi pointing out the dangers inherent in the legal action sought by PepsiCo said in a statement,”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.”
Activists across the country have joined in on the social media, insisting on a boycott of PepsiCo products until it withdraws the cases.