Indian farmer unions decide to put on a fight over seed potato variety rights

Pepsico India produces (most of) its Lay's potato chips from a proprietary variety FL 2027, also known as FC-5.

Indian Farmers’ movements have decided to put up a collective fight to ensure that farmers’ seed freedoms in India are not violated in any way, in a People’s Conference held in Pune last Saturday.

Organised by Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), the Conference resolved that they will not allow another “PepsiCo India Vs. Farmers episode” to recur in India.

The Conference saw legal and IPR experts and farmer leaders re-examine the PepsiCo India legal cases against nine potato farmers of Gujarat and come up with an action plan to prevent any recurrences in future.

The Conference saw the participation of farmers’ leaders from different states of India, like Rakesh Tikait, Yudhvir Singh and Dharmendar Malik of Bhartiya Kisan Union, Badri Narayan Chaudhary of Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, Naresh Sirohi of BJP Kisan Morcha, Ashwani Mahajan of Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, Chamarasa Patil of Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, Kapil Shah of Beej Adhikar Manch, Kavitha Kurugan, Ananthoo, Rohit Parakh and Ajay Etikala of ASHA, Soma Parthasarathy of Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch, Com. KN Ramachandran of All India Krantikari Kisan Sabha, Com. Ombir Singh of All India Agragamee Kisan Sabha, N Srinivas of Rythu Rakshana Vedika, Jacob Nellithanam and Krishna Prasad of Bharat Beej Swaraj Manch, Manojbhai Solanki of Akshay Krishi Pariwar etc.

The Registrar General of Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers’ Rights Authority Dr R C Agrawal shared about the implementation of PPV&FR Act 2001.

A release from ASHA:

“Large scale awareness building should be made the responsibility of the PPV&FR Authority to ensure that this episode does not recur again – this should cover the judiciary, legal fraternity, state government agriculture departments, researchers and plant breeders, registrants in the plant varieties registry, seed traders and others.”
Tighten the farmers’ rights provisions if and where needed, so that unambiguous interpretation in all cases is possible and no recurrences of such incidents happen again, demanded the activists.

The release from ASHA:

“A provision should be included in the Act and its Rules that no legal proceedings can be initiated against farmers in India without authorisation by the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority.”

“Suo motu powers to be vested with the Authority to support farmers, under Section 8 of the Act, to provide various kinds of support to farmers anywhere in the country, if any registered breeder is claiming exclusive rights.”
A demand was made that all PVP Certificates should contain a clause that makes the Certificate provisional to Section 39(1)(iv), and if this is not maintained by the registered breeder or representative, to revoke the certificate.

The conference resolves that any move by India towards UPOV 1991 will be resisted strongly including through the route of free trade agreements being negotiated. Similarly, there cannot be any compromise on farmers’ seed rights through any new seeds related legislations that can be tabled in the Parliament like an amended Seeds Bill etc.

Many speakers in this Conference also felt that PepsiCo India should pay compensation to the Gujarat potato farmers for the harassment and intimidation that they were subjected to.

Agriculture Ministry issues notice to PepsiCo

In a related development, the Hindu reports that PepsiCo India was served with a notice from a central agency under the Agriculture Ministry regarding an application to revoke the registration of its potato variety used to make its trademark Lays chips.

The application was filed by Kavitha Kuruganti, a convenor of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture. The notice was issued by the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority on June 17. Pepsico India has been given three months to respond.

Pepsico India:

“We are studying the notice and will be responding to it appropriately.”
According to sources the application to revoke PepsiCo’s registration argues that the firm violated Section 39 (1) (iv) clause of the PPV&FR Act 2001 when it sued the Gujarat potato farmers.

The application reportedly evokes Section 34 (f) of the Act which allows the registration to be revoked on the grounds that “the breeder has not complied with the provisions of this Act or rules or regulations made thereunder”.

The application also reportedly points out omissions from PepsiCo’s original application for registration, which would be grounds for revocation under Section 34 (c).