Why patent potatoes and register an already-developed variety, under the PPV&FR Act, 2001?
Scientists have developed two varieties of potatoes — table potato for regular cooking and processing potato for chips and fries industries. Development of a variety can take up to nine to 10 years on an average, and given the work required, inventors or breeders do patent their varieties. Furthermore, in this case (PepsiCo’s FL 2027 variety), where the patent was first taken in the US by Frito Lay North America, they chose to also register their variety in India because they may have had to conduct trial for a period to see what sample of the FL 2027 variety works in India… There is still research involved, considering environmental and other factors that affect cropping pattern and productivity. But, sections 39 (1) (iv) and 42 of the PPV&FR Act protects farmers if proven that it is an innocent infringement.
What is special about the processing varieties of potato?
Processing varieties have three basic qualities. First, their dry content since potatoes have high water content. To serve industries’ requirement, the dry matter (or solids) must be greater than 21% so that less energy is required for frying. Second is reducing the sugar content to avoid colouration upon frying. For chips, reducing sugars should be less than 100 mg/100 gm of potato content, while for fries it should be less than 200 mg/gm. The third requirement is shape, which industries prefer to be round or slightly oval with a diameter greater than 45 mm.
How is the table potato different?
For a table potato variety, high yield is the major driving factor. With proper cropping methods, 80-85% of the yield of processing varieties are greater than 45 mm in diameter. If the farmers want a premium price for the remaining 15-20 per cent of their yield, they sell it to the starch industry, for which the size doesn’t matter, but the other two factors are an advantage. Selling it as table potato wouldn’t give them the right price. Moreover, in the past two to three years, potato prices have crashed in Gujarat making it difficult for farmers to get the right price. While processing potato varieties can be used as table potato, it can’t be vice versa.
Are potato varieties developed in India? If so, how?
The Indian government has set up Central Potato Research Institute in Shimla, with 27 branches across the country, for ‘varietal development,’ of both processing and table potatoes. Since it’s a government responsibility, there isn’t any issue of patenting or conflict of interests with farmers in the Indian context. While Indian-developed table potato varieties such as Kufri Pukhraj and Kufri Badshah have become highly popular, especially in Gujarat, indigenously-developed processing varieties, say Kufri Chipsona, are yet to find large-scale acceptance. Research is underway to develop processing varieties with shorter maturity period.
Is there a way to differentiate between different varieties of potato?
Identifying can be difficult. The Dutch variety, Lady Rosetta, can be easily distinguished due to a reddish tint in its skin, but other light-skinned varieties don’t look too different. Kufri Pukhraj is yellow inside and Kufri Badshah is white, but one can’t cut and check while sowing.