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Plant varieties regulator revising FAQs after farmers call foul

PepsiCo had faced major protests for slapping a ₹4.2 crore lawsuit against four farmers

PepsiCo had faced major protests for slapping a ₹4.2 crore lawsuit against four farmers   | Photo Credit: Sushanta Patronobish

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PepsiCo cited FAQs to justify lawsuits against potato farmers

A document which food and beverages giant PepsiCo India cited to support its charges against Gujarat potato farmers earlier this year is being revised by the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Authority (PPV&FRA), following complaints from major farmers groups.

The Frequently Asked Questions or FAQ document had claimed that “only small and marginal farmers involved in subsistence farming” are eligible to claim rights under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001. The FAQ also said these rights are not for “commercial farmers” and are only meant for “small scale” use.

PepsiCo has used the same argument in an ongoing case at the Authority over its registered potato variety used for Lays chips. The company has also cited the FAQ document to justify dragging more than nine farmers to court in 2018 for growing and selling its registered variety.

The company faced product boycotts and major protests across the political spectrum for slapping a ₹4.2 crore lawsuit against four farmers, and ultimately withdrew all cases after government intervention just before Lok Sabha elections in May 2019.

The PPV&FR Act allows a farmer to “save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this Act”. The legislation itself does not include any stipulation that only small and marginal farmers will be protected, or mention the scale of use.

Calling for change

On Tuesday, Gene Campaign chairperson Suman Sahai sent a complaint letter about the FAQ document to PPV&FRA chairperson K.V. Prabhu.

The letter was endorsed by over 130 other farmers groups including major players such as the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, the Bharatiya Kisan Union and the Shetkari Sangathana.

Dr. Prabhu told The Hindu that an expert committee has now been set up to revise the document. “There were some statements that could have been explained in simpler language and some could be interpreted differently from what is provided. Hence taken out for revision,” he said.

The ongoing case at the PPV&FRA revolves around PepsiCo’s FL-2027 variety of potatoes, which it grows through a collaborative farmers programme, wherein the company sells seeds to 12,000 farmers and has an exclusive contract to buy back their produce to make its chips.

The company introduced the variety to India in 2009 and registered it under the PPV&FR Act in 2016.

In June 2019, activist Kavitha Kuruganti of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture applied for the revocation of PepsiCo’s registration at the Authority on the grounds that it was not in public interest, especially given the company’s lawsuits against farmers.

In September 2019, PepsiCo responded to the revocation notice, claiming that it had “rights under the Act to pursue necessary actions against individuals and companies alike who infringe its rights granted under the Act”. In its response, the company contends that farmers’ rights under the Act are not over-arching and draws upon the FAQ document to justify its actions.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 2:51:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/plant-varieties-regulator-revising-faqs-after-farmers-call-foul/article30271561.ece

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