In the wake of lawsuits filed by PepsiCo India against 11 farmers for growing a particular variety of potato, registered by the US food giant, the Gujarat government has decided to persuade farmers to desist from growing the registered variety of potato without requisite permission from the company. And if they did, they could sell it only to the patent holder — the company which has registered the crop variety — government sources told The Indian Express on Friday.
This came on a day when Chief Secretary J N Singh met PepsiCo India officials, led by its Vice-President Jagrut Kotecha here on Friday.
After the meeting, Singh told The Indian Express that the state government suggested to Pepsico officials that instead of having a bipartite agreement with farmers for contract farming of their registered seeds, they should sign a tripartite agreement involving the state government in it.
“In that case, the state government remains in the know of the development if any controversy erupts and can also have a say in it.”
The meeting which was also attended by Additional Chief Secretary (Agriculture) Sanjay Prasad and Director (Agriculture) B N Modi was held a day after PepsiCo India announced to withdraw “all the cases” against the farmers from whom it had sought damages ranging between Rs 20 lakh and Rs 1.05 crore for “illegally growing and selling” their potato variety — FL-2027 — registered under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001. In all, 11 farmers are facing lawsuits filed by the company. Three of them, however, had previous contracts with PepsiCo.
When asked about the meeting, PepsiCo’s Kotecha said that the state government wanted to know from them the details of the issue, and refused to divulge any further details.
Chief Secretary, however, said that the company told them that they wanted to “amicably resolve the issue”.
Singh said that they told PepsiCo that instead of filing lawsuits against the farmers, they should have informed the state government about the issue. “We told them that had they informed us prior about the issue, the controversy could have been avoided,” Director (Agriculture) Bharat Modi said.
Meanwhile, Kavitha Kuruganthi of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), a nationwide network of more than 400 farmers’ organisations, hit out at the Gujarat government for trying to settle the issue “without the involvement of any farmers”.
“What is the government so afraid of that it is trying a settlement without any farmers’ involvement? The PPV&FR Act is clearly on the side of farmers. The government has no business in committing on behalf of the farmers. This kind of arrangement is completely against section 39 (1) (iv) of the Act. Moreover, in case of such an arrangement, we are looking at lakhs of farmers losing freedom of sowing,” Kuruganthi said.
While a senior government officer expressed apprehension of Gujarat farmers losing out on contract farming and healthy rates of potato yield from companies like PepsiCo if more such violations are reported from the state, Kuruganthi disagreed.
“The possibility of PepsiCo moving out of the state should not be a concern. What Gujarat government should look at is what is at stake here — lakhs of livelihood of farmers as what happens with this case will set a precedent, and the effects of it would not be restricted to the few farmers facing the lawsuit at present.”
(With inputs from Sohini Ghosh)