PepsiCo faced Twitter backlash after suing Indian farmers who allegedly grew a patented strain of potatoes. Image Credit: Twitter

Dubai: PepsiCo has agreed to stop pursuing four small farmers in India it had earlier accused of illegally growing a variety of potatoes it had exclusive rights on.

The company’s Indian subsidiary filed lawsuits against the farmers earlier this month.

On Friday, during a court hearing in the Indian state of Gujrat, a lawyer for PepsiCo (PEP) offered to drop the case, provided the farmers join other farmers in the company’s licensed cultivation program.

According to a CNN report, a PepsiCo spokesperson said: “We told them, why don’t you join our program and we will provide seeds... Either join us or grow other potatoes. That way, we are willing to let go of the case.”

The farmers’ lawyer has asked for time to consider the offer. The next court hearing is due June 12.

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The lawsuit

PepsiCo was reportedly seeking damages of 10 million rupees (over Dh500,000) from each farmer. The farms they operate have only a few acres each.

PepsiCo had filed a suit seeking a permanent injunction to restrain the four farmers from infringing its plant variety ‘FL 2027’, used in the manufacture of its Lays potato chips. It contended before the court that its statutory rights under Sections 64 and 65 of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001 were being violated by the farmers.

#BoycottPepsico trends in India

Farmer unions and activists have been protesting against Pepsico over the case. They asked the Indian government to step in and take action against PepsiCo. Many took to Twitter to say this was unfair to the farmers and pointed out that their rights to grow and sell registered crops are protected under India’s agricultural laws.

Debate on social media

A debate also erupted on social media. While most are supporting the protection of rights of small farmers, others are highlighting the legalities involved in cultivating patented crops. However, Twitter @gamerbycore2698 highlighted: “... they certainly cannot get patent for their potatoes under patent act 1970 as section 3(h) of the act states that method of agriculture or horticulture is non patentable invention. Is this just legal harassment of our farmers?”

@WrongDoc tweeted: “Unpopular opinion: if PepsiCo developed and brand protected the particular crop and have all the legal rights to them, they’re right in pursuing to protect them. It’s no different from a farmer protecting his cow from the cattle smugglers.”

According to Kapil Shah, an activist, the company’s actions are “against food sovereignty” and the “sovereignty of the nation”.

Last resort says Pepsico

According to media reports, PepsiCo’s spokesperson said: “The company was compelled to take the judicial recourse as a last resort to safeguard the larger interest of thousands of farmers that are engaged with its collaborative potato farming program.”

However, Indians are saying that they will continue to stand with the farmers regardless of whether government supports them or not.

@CoimbatoreRam tweeted: “@PepsiCo Whether the governments stand with our farmers are not, the 1.3 billion Indians will stand with them. Extract few crores from our farmers at the cost of losing a market worth several millions!”