PepsiCo buys peace with potato growers

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After it sued four farmers from Sabarkantha district seeking damages of Rs 1 crore from each of them for growing its patented potato variety, the Indian arm of food and beverages giant PepsiCo offered an olive branch on Friday.

The company proposed to settle the case of Intellectual Property Rights infringement with the farmers provided they undertake not to grow the FC-5 variety or sign a contract to purchase the seeds from it and sell the final product to the firm.
Advocate Anand Yagnik, who represented the farmers, told the commercial court in Ahmedabad that he would discuss the proposal with the farmers and share their response in the next hearing scheduled for June 12. Earlier, the court had restricted the farmers from using the patented seeds.

Later, Yagnik said many farmers in the area had refused to enter into a contract with PepsiCo because the terms were exploitative. “Moreover, the seeds are very costly and the price the company offers for the yield is not economical for the farmers,” he said.
In the present case, Yadnik said, the company’s representatives entered the four farmers’ fields posing as potential customers. “They got the potatoes tested in their lab as well as the government lab. But how do you know which potato they used. If the company suspected the farmers of growing the FC-5 potatoes, the ideal route should have been to get them tested through a court-appointed commissioner, who would collect the samples in the presence of agriculture experts and then send them to the forensic science laboratory for testing,” said Yagnik.

PepsiCo India said it has proposed to amicably settle with people who were unlawfully using seeds of its registered variety. “We have proposed that they may become part of our collaborative potato farming program. In case, they do not wish to join this program, they can simply sign an agreement and grow other available varieties of potatoes,” the company said in its statement.

It said the company took the judicial recourse as a last resort to safeguard the larger interest of thousands of farmers that are engaged with its collaborative potato farming programme.
Bipin Patel of Laxmanpura Kampa village of Vadali taluka, who is among those sued by the company, said they get the seeds from friends and relatives or from leftover yield of last year. “That is how farmers farm. We usually exchange the seeds with our friends and relatives or use from what is left over from the earlier years’ yield,” said Patel. Patel said he and the other three farmers had never entered into a contract with the company.

Patel said a deal with the company not economical. “The normal seeds cost Rs 800 to 900 for a 50kg bag, while the FC-5 variety costs Rs 1,350 per bag.”
Earlier in a press conference held by a farmers’ rights organisation, they had pointed out how the company failed to buy all their produce and would often not pay for potatoes that were not of a particular size. The organisation had said that with no recourse for the leftover potatoes termed as waste by the company (because they were smaller than the required size), many farmers would often sell it in the mandi.
PepsiCo had earlier sued 8 farmers in Aravalli district over the patent issue and the case is still under hearing in a district court in Modasa.

‘LEGAL ROUTE WAS LAST RESORT’

•PepsiCo India said it has proposed to amicably settle with people who were unlawfully using seeds of its registered variety
•It said the farmers may become part of its collaborative potato farming programme or can sign a deal and grow other varieties

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