NEW DELHI: Potato farmers in Gujarat involved in a dispute with PepsiCo said on Friday that the food and beverage company should compensate them and not impose conditions for its decision to withdraw lawsuits against them.
“Withdrawing of cases should be unconditional, with compensation paid to farmers for the harassment they were subjected to even though the law is very clear on the subject,” a group of farmers, farmer union leaders and farmer rights activists said in a media statement.
“We would like the state government to reveal the full details of the ongoing discussions with the company since we are demanding an unconditional withdrawal, based on a reiteration of Sec. 39 (1) (iv) of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001. Anything else is not acceptable,” the statement read.
“We need to educate farmers about their legal rights. It is not enough that a law has been made enshrining farmers’ rights, if such harassment is possible in reality. Both central and state governments should run campaigns to educate farmers and farm organizations will definitely cooperate,” said Badribhai Joshi of Gujarat Khedut Samaj, a not-for-profit that supports farmers’ rights.
“PepsiCo should come with a clear proposal so that we can read them, and between the lines, too,” said Maganbhai Patel of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, a farmers’ organization.
Farmers also expressed concern over PepsiCo’s decision to engage in talks with the government. “Any such negotiations must happen in the presence of civil society,” said Sagar Rabari of Khedut Ekta Manch, a farmers’ rights organisation.
Three of the sued farmers—Bipinbhai Patel, Chhabilbhai Patel and Vinodbhai Patel—who held a press conference in Ahmedabad, said their freedom to choose seeds is non-negotiable.
In April, PepsiCo took four farmers to court saying they illegally cultivated a variety of potatoes, FC5, for which the company claimed plant variety protection rights.
On Friday, executives from PepsiCo including Jagrut Kotecha, vice president snacks category business at PepsiCo India met top government executives in Gandhinagar to discuss the matter with the state government.
Meanwhile, farmer’s body All India Kisan Sabha, threatened “intense protests” against the food and beverage company.
“PepsiCo’s expression of Intent to withdraw lawsuit against farmers is a significant victory for farmers’ seed freedoms as guaranteed by Indian laws
However, nothing concrete has been done by them yet in that direction. AIKS demands that the company come clear and walk the talk or brace for more intense protests. The Gujarat State Government should also come clear on what are the negotiations that it is having with the Companu. AIKS demands that strong deterrent against PepsiCo for the harassment meted out to farmers be taken including exemplary compensation and revocation of license if the company does not comply with such decision. We also demand an unconditional apology from PepsiCo for such blatant violation of farmers’ seed freedoms,” Ashok Dhawale, president, AIKS and Hannan Mollah, General Secretary, AIKS said in a statement on 3 May.