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Pepsi is suing 4 Indian farmers for potato infringement

Pepsi is suing 4 Indian farmers for potato infringement
[Photo: Flickr user Mike Mozart]

This story has been updated.

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PepsiCo is taking four farmers in India to court over potatoes. The multinational corporation that has a market valuation of $177 billion claims that these four growers were illegally cultivating its registered potatoes.

What, you may be asking, does “registered potatoes” mean? It’s essentially agricultural copyright. PepsiCo, which owns brands like Lays, authorizes only a select number of farmers to grow the specific potato strain it has cultivated for the beloved potato chips. Those four farmers, reports CNN Business, are not part of that select group.

In a statement to CNN Business, PepsiCo said:

PepsiCo is India’s largest process grade potato buyer and amongst the first companies to work with thousands of local farmers to grow a specific protected variety of potatoes for it. In this instance, we took judicial recourse against people who were illegally dealing in our registered variety.

I reached out for additional comment and will update this post if I hear back. (Update: The company has provided me with a new statement below.) 

Indian advocacy groups are hitting back at this legal move. They claim that maneuvers like these are a part of a growing conflict between large corporations and struggling farmers just trying to make ends meet. In a letter to the Indian government, farmers associations described Pepsi’s actions as “intimidation and legal harassment of farmers.”

All this because less than half a dozen farmers chose the wrong kind of potatoes to grow. Pepsi is reportedly seeking 10 million rupees ($143,000) in damages from each farmer–but hasn’t confirmed that number on the record.

You can read the full CNN Business story here.

Update: In a statement to Fast Company, PepsiCo says it working to settle with the farmers. Here’s a statement from a spokesperson:

PepsiCo India has proposed 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 program. This program gives them access to higher yields, enhanced quality, training in best-in-class practices and better prices. In case, they do not wish to join this program, they can simply sign an agreement and grow other available varieties of potatoes. It is significant to note that the company’s collaborative potato farming program is best in class and is built on strong backward and forward linkages that improve livelihoods by using protected seeds.

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. PepsiCo India remains deeply committed to resolving the matter and ensuring adoption of best farming practices.

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