Indian farmers reject out-of-court settlement of potato dispute with Pepsico

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A customer picks packets of Lay's potato chips at a shop in Ahmedabad, India, on April 26, 2019. Lay's potato chips is a product of Pepsico, which is embroiled with a dispute with some Indian farmers in Gujarat state. (REUTERS/Amit Dave)
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Potato Field in India. (Shutterstock image)
Updated 28 April 2019

Indian farmers reject out-of-court settlement of potato dispute with Pepsico

  • Pepsico filed a lawsuit against four farmers, accusing them of growing a type of potato exclusively registered for producing the firm’s Lay’s brand of chips
  • The farmers say Pepsico was wrong and that have refused to settle the case amicably

NEW DELHI: Farmers in the western Indian state of Gujarat have refused an out-of-court settlement with PepsiCo. over a potato dispute.

The multinational filed a lawsuit against four farmers, alleging they were growing a type of potato that had been exclusively registered for producing the firm’s Lay’s brand of chips.

In a court hearing in the city of Ahmedabad on Friday, the food and beverage giant offered a settlement in which it asked the farmers to sign an agreement for buying the registered variety of FC-5 potato seeds and only selling the resulting produce to the company. It also asked the farmers to agree that they would never grow and use this seed variety in the future.

“We will not agree to the conditions that PepsiCo. is trying to impose on us,” Vindo Kumar Ishwar Bhai, one of the four farmers, told Arab News. 

“Accepting the offer would mean that we have made a mistake. We hope that we get justice and we will not bow to the pressure of the multinational company.”

He said a final decision would be made on June 12 after discussing the case with other farmers and farming organizations. 

“PepsiCo. India has done wrong by filing a case against us. We want the government to intervene and help the farmers.”

Earlier this month PepsiCo. India filed a lawsuit in a commercial court in Ahmedabad and asked it to pass an injunction against the four farmers for growing the FC-5 variety of potato. 

The company also demanded damages of around $147,000 from each farmer.

The court asked the foursome to stop growing the potatoes until the next order.

But there is a groundswell of support for the farmers. 

More than 190 farmers, scientists, activists and unions from across India signed a protest letter supporting them, and some trade unions have also demanded a boycott of PepsiCo. products in India.

Anand Yagnik, the lawyer representing the four farmers, said the PepsiCo. agreement was unprofessional. 

“It wants the farmers to buy the seeds from it at a high rate and then farmers should sell their products to the international brands at a lower price,” he told Arab News. 

“This is exploitation of Indian farmers by a multinational brand. Farmers say that, according to Indian law, we can buy this seed and no one can stop us from doing that.”

PepsiCo. India refused to comment when contacted by Arab News.

News reports said the firm had told the court that “firstly, the farmers have to sign an agreement with us to buy the seeds and sell the produce to us. Or, the farmers give an undertaking that they will never use our registered seeds without permission in future. Whatever stock they have at present should be given to us.”

The Agriculture Ministry told Arab News that the government was watching the situation and would intervene if necessary.

Kapil Shah of Jatan Trust, a farmers’ advocacy group based in Gujarat, accused PepsiCo. of harming the wider interests of the farmers. “It is encroaching on the sovereign rights of farmers to grow anything they want.”

The All-India Farmers Association called on the government to intervene and protect the potato farmers of Gujarat, which is the home turf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“PepsiCo. has sued the farmers for $147,000 and it’s so unfair . The poor farmers cannot manage this kind of money even after selling off all their lands,” the association’s Hannan Mollah told Arab News. “The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act, 2001, allows farmers to use any variety of seeds without any restrictions.”

On Saturday, the Center for Trade Unions also came out in support of the farmers, demanding government intervention.

“With India’s favorite brands like Lay’s, Pepsi, Quaker, Tropicana & Gatorade in its 22-brand portfolio, PepsiCo. is one of India’s largest food & beverage enterprise,” reads the firm’s website.

UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

Updated 9 min 57 sec ago

UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

  • Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya
  • They have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts

YANGON: The UN has warned it will pare back aid to thousands of Rohingya Muslims left destitute as Myanmar’s government closes camps in Rakhine state, over fears its continued support “risks entrenching segregation.”
Aid agencies are facing an increasingly sharp dilemma in the region as they balance relief for desperate communities with leverage over the government.
The majority of Myanmar’s Rohingya were driven into Bangladesh by a 2017 army crackdown, but around 400,000 remain inside conflict-battered Rakhine.
Those include nearly 130,000 held since 2012 in squalid camps, currently supported by UN agencies and humanitarian groups.
As part of its strategy to address the crisis, Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya.
But they have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts. Instead, they are being settled in new accommodation close to the former camps.
That has sparked fears aid agencies are effectively being used to prop-up a policy that fails to address the fundamental needs of the Rohingya, including housing, work, food and security.
The camp closure plan “risks entrenching segregation,” UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Knut Ostby wrote to the government in a leaked letter, dated 6 June and seen by AFP.
The letter, also written on behalf of aid groups, warned support “beyond life-saving assistance” at the closed sites would in future be linked to “tangible” progress made on “the fundamental issue of freedom of movement.”
“Life-saving” support includes food, health and water, but site planning, shelter construction and education facilities could be phased out, aid agency sources told AFP.
The UN has faced criticism for a slow response to violence against the Rohingya, which escalated after 2012 riots between Muslim Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
A UN report released Monday admitted “systemic failures” in its handling of the build-up to the Rohingya crisis.
Limited access to Rakhine’s camps makes independent reporting on conditions difficult.
But AFP has reviewed recent interviews conducted in five camps by an NGO requesting anonymity to protect its work.
“If I build a house, it can be seized arbitrarily,” one Rohingya man said.
“I have no right to the land and I can also be arrested at any time.”
An aid worker called the remaining 23 sites in Rakhine little more than “concentration camps.”
On condition of anonymity, she spoke of the “complicity” humanitarian staff feel for perpetuating the segregation.
Amnesty International has described Rakhine as an “apartheid state.”
All aid must be “heavily conditioned,” researcher Laura Haigh said, warning donors that building infrastructure could make them complicit in crimes against humanity.
The government defended the camp closures, telling AFP it would continue working with the UN and NGOs on the issue.
Any former camp resident holding a National Verification Card (NVC) will be able to “move freely within their township” and access “education, health facilities and livelihood activities,” the social welfare ministry said.
Most Rohingya refuse to apply for the card believing they should already be treated as full citizens.
Those interviewed said the few to have caved had no more rights than anyone else.
They were also forced to designate themselves as “Bengali,” a term implying they are from Bangladesh.
“They are just trying to dominate us and make us illegal through different ways,” one Rohingya man said.