AIKS and CITU look to fry PepsiCo over potatoes

The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), the Centre for Indian Trade Union (CITU) and the All India Ambedkar Maha Sabha (AIAMS) on Friday called for a boycott of PepsiCo’s potato products, including the popular brand ‘Lays’, till the multinational company withdraws cases filed against farmers for allegedly growing a variety of potato “registered” by the company. (Reuters Photo)

The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), the Centre for Indian Trade Union (CITU) and the All India Ambedkar Maha Sabha (AIAMS) on Friday called for a boycott of PepsiCo’s potato products, including the popular brand ‘Lays’, till the multinational company withdraws cases filed against farmers for allegedly growing a variety of potato “registered” by the company.

Demanding the urgent intervention of Narendra Modi government to protect potato farmers in Gujarat, the AIKS said the company was seeking Rs 1.05 from nine small farmers from the state for cultivating FC-5, a variety of potato for which PepsiCo India Holdings claims to have obtained “exclusive rights in the country in 2016”.

“The company has unethically implicated farmers in cases,” AIKS General Secretary Hannan Mollah told reporters in Delhi.

In solidarity, CITU backed the AIKS boycott call and demanded the withdrawal of “vindictive” cases immediately. Terming the company’s action as one more jolt to distressed farmers, Ashok Bharti of the AIAMS said the organisation was fully with the farmers.

On Friday, PepsiCo told a commercial court in Ahmedabad that it was ready to settle lawsuits if the farmers gave an undertaking to purchase the specific variety of seeds from the company and thereafter sell the potato produced to it. Nine farmers from Sabarkantha and Aravalli districts are being sued by PepsiCo for allegedly growing a variety of potato for which it has claimed Plant Variety Protection (PVP) rights.

Mollah said the case was a violation of Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act 2001, which clearly mention the right of the farmers to “save, use, saw, resaw, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety” so long as he does not sell branded seed.

“AIKS demands the PepsiCo to immediately withdraw the cases and apologise to the peasants of India,” he said.

Stating that this was a “test case of the corporate exploitation of farmers under the WTO regime,” Mollah said the previous Central governments, led by both Congress and BJP, were “responsible for completely surrendering the rights of their peasantry and the nation in favour of corporates.” Reacting to the news, PepsiCo India said it wanted to amicably settle with people who were “unlawfully” using seeds of its registered variety.

“PepsiCo has also proposed that they may become part of its collaborative potato farming programme. If they do not wish to join this programme, they can simply sign an agreement and grow other available varieties of potatoes,” it said.

The company claimed it was compelled to take judicial recourse as a last resort.

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