Farmers in India, who were sued by PepsiCo for planting patented potatoes, have rejected an out-of-court settlement. Supported by officials and fellow farmers, they have the national law on their side, activists say.
The food giant targeted nine farmers in the western Indian state of Gujarat with lawsuits demanding they pay damages for using a variety of potatoes protected by copyright. The court action, PepsiCo said, is meant to protect other farmers, who buy the seeds directly from the company and sell the produce back at a price determined by the company. One of the lawsuits filed by the multinational against four farmers was heard in the city of Ahmedabad on Friday.
The company offered two options to settle the dispute out of court. One would be to sign an agreement to stop planting the seed variety. The other one would be to come into the fold and sign a standard farming contract with the giant. The latter would give the defendants “access to higher yields, enhanced quality, training in best-in-class practices and better prices,” the company stated.
But the four farmers rejected the proposed settlement.
“Accepting the offer would mean that we have made a mistake. We hope that we get justice and we will not bow to the pressure of the multinational company,” said Vindo Kumar Ishwar Bhai, one of the four farmers.
The farmers are correct in believing that they did nothing wrong, said Kavitha Kurungati, an activist from the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), an Indian advocacy group for farmers’ rights. When India acceded to the World Trade Organization in 2001, it opted for strong protection of the traditional seed-breeding practices of its farmers, she told RT.
We have tens of thousands of [seed] varieties in this country because the farmers themselves have been excellent breeders. They knew how to create seeds and conserve them. India’s lawmakers recognized that farmers have to be kept on par or even higher than modern-day corporate breeders.
Farmers are even allowed to sell patented seeds like the one at the focus of the PepsiCo lawsuits as long as they don’t infringe on the brand, Kurungati explained.
The Gujarat potato growers enjoyed massive support from fellow farmers,