PepsiCo offers Gujarat farmers to settle court case

Ahmedabad: Global beverages and food products giant PepsiCo India on Friday expressed its willingness for an out-of-court settlement with the potato growers of Gujarat whom it had dragged to the court for growing FL2027 or FC5 variety of potatoes, for which the company claims exclusive rights.

The variety is used by PepsiCo in its popular chips brand Lay’s.

The company made the offer during a hearing at the Commercial Court of Ahmedabad.

A PepsiCo spokesperson stated, “PepsiCo India has proposed to amicably settle with people who were unlawfully using seeds of its registered variety (FC5). PepsiCo has also proposed that they may become part of its collaborative potato farming programme, which will give them access to higher yields, enhanced quality, training in best-in-class practices and better prices.”

The company stated that if the farmers did not wish to join its potato farming, “they can simply sign an agreement and grow other available varieties of potatoes” but not this particular variety.

PepsiCo added: “The company was compelled to take the judicial recourse as a last resort to safeguard the larger interest of thousands of farmers engaged with its collaborative potato farming programme. PepsiCo India remains deeply committed to resolving the matter and ensuring the adoption of the best farming practices.”

The firm had filed a law suit against four farmers from Vadali, the potato-growing belt in Sabarkantha district of North Gujarat, for violation of intellectual property rights of a plant variety registered by the company under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001. The company had sought Rs 1 crore in ‘estimated damages’ from these farmers.

The counsel for the farmers submitted that the company’s proposal would be discussed and a reply be sent stating what they wanted to do. The farmers have sought time to file written responses.

Meanwhile, a court stay on sowing and selling the said variety of potato would remain operational. The next hearing will be held on June 12.

Earlier, a group of 192 farmer leaders, civil society representatives and activists had written to the Gujarat and the Central governments to intervene in support of the farmers. They also sought immediate withdrawal of cases against the farmers.