Farmers worried PepsiCo-govt. talks will dilute their rights

A file photo of a farmer harvesting PepsiCo’s Atlanta variety potato.The Hindu

A file photo of a farmer harvesting PepsiCo’s Atlanta variety potato.The Hindu  

In the wake of PepsiCo withdrawing its cases against Gujarat potato growers, farmers groups are still worried about the dilution of their rights by the State and Central governments.

Sources familiar with this week’s negotiations between PepsiCo and the Gujarat government say that the company was given an “assurance for a long-term amicable settlement” regarding its seed-protection concerns.

Some reports have also suggested that the State government on Friday agreed to persuade farmers to join the company’s contract farming programme and not to grow its registered variety without permission.

“When the law allows farmers to grow any variety of crop that they want, why should the Gujarat government persuade the farmers otherwise?” said Vittalbhai Dudhatra, president of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh. Other leaders slammed the non-transparent nature of the discussions, which exclude farmers.

On Saturday, the Gujarat government denied being party to any such deal. “The PepsiCo executives only came to [meet the Chief secretary in Ahmedabad] and apprise us of their decision to withdraw the cases unconditionally. The law allows farmers to grow whatever they want,” said B.M. Modi, State’s Agriculture Director.

Meanwhile, at the Central level, the Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Rights Authority is considering an extension of the period of protection for registered varieties, which farmers fear will dilute their rights. In its October 2018 meeting, the authority considered a proposal to increase the protection period for field crops from 15 years to 20 years, and for trees and vines from 18 years to 25 years.

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