Gujarat potato growers want compensation from PepsiCo

Ahmedabad: Even though PepsiCo India has announced it is withdrawing lawsuits against Gujarat’s potato growers, the affected farmers on Friday demanded compensation for the harassment they were subjected to, while a newly-formed entity Bij Adhikar Manch (forum for rights over seeds) called for boycott of PepsiCo products.

Simultaneously, the farmers also demanded that the withdrawal of cases against them by the food and beverages giant should be unconditional since the statement issued by the company did not speak about ensuring non-infringement of the rights of the potato growers over what they produced.

PepsiCo had filed suits against nine farmers — four cases this year and five last year — from the potato-growing belt in north Gujarat, claiming they had grown the FL2027 or FC5 variety of potatoes, which were the company’s intellectual property under the Indian law. PepsiCo uses the potatoes to manufacture chips under its popular brand Lay’s.

Demanding compensation, Bipin Patel, one of the farmers against whom the company had filed legal suits, told reporters: “Its (PepsiCo) real intention might have been to wipe out competitors from the market but it chose to harass the farmers. The company has to pay us compensation for all the harassment we were put through.”

The farmers also asked the state government, which has agreed to support them in the issue, not to get influenced by “corporate interests” and pressurise the company to agree to their demand for compensation.

Besides this, the farmers and leaders of the organisations for farmers want a clear proposal from the company while withdrawing the cases.

“It is high time that PepsiCo should come out with a clear proposal so that we can read between the lines too,” Maganbhai Patel of RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh said.

“If you look at the statement issued by PepsiCo on Thursday, it talks of finding long-term amicable solution for seed protection. What does it mean by that? The issue is now not just about withdrawal of cases but to firmly establish rights of farmers over the seeds and no one in the future should even think of challenging this right,” Kapil Shah, coordinator, Bij Adhikar Manch, asserted. “We would request the government to intervene and clearly state this fact,” he added.

These statements come amidst a meeting of a PepsiCo India delegation with Chief Secretary of Gujarat and Additional Chief Secretary, Agriculture, in the state capital Gandhinagar on Friday.

“We had just come to update the state government about the decision we announced on Thursday. It was a good meeting and talks veered around finding an amicable solution for everyone going forward,” Jagrut Kotecha, Vice President – Foods, PepsiCo India, told reporters.

Kotecha said PepsiCo India would withdraw the cases as and when they come up for hearings before the courts, which in case of four farmers is on June 12.

When asked why they have called for boycott of PepsiCo products since the issue was limited to the immediate dispute between the company and the potato farmers, Kapil Shah said though PepsiCo had issued public statements, it was yet to withdraw the cases.

“It is a private case and none of the farmers has been informed. In fact, we would ask the government to ensure that PepsiCo gives it to us in writing that it is withdrawing the cases unconditionally and they also apologise to the farmers,” Shah said.