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.