On April 11, the multinational company PepsiCo filed a civil suit against four farmers of Sabarkantha district, Gujarat, in an Ahmedabad court. PepsiCo accused the farmers of “illegally dealing” in the company’s “registered variety” of potato plants, whose produce is used in its ‘Lays’ chips product. Declaring this to be in contravention of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001, the company also demanded damages of Rs 1.05 crore from each farmer. According to PepsiCo, the farmers who were growing the particular variety of potatoes were ‘infringing upon the right’ of the company ‘under the act’.
Activists of the Khedut Ekta Manch, a farmers’ rights organisations based in Gujarat, explained that PepsiCo has been carrying out large-scale potato contract farming in the Sabarkantha area. Based on rumours that some farmers in the region who were not registered with PepsiCo were growing the variety, PepsiCo hired a detective agency which went to the farmers posing as buyers offering higher prices, bought the potatoes and sent the samples to the company laboratory.
Faced with the firm resistance of the farmers of the area, supported by several peasant organisations, including challenging PepsiCo in court, it was reported on April 26 that the company has offered the farmers an ‘out of court’ settlement, provided they become a part of the company’s contract farming program or sign an agreement to stop growing this particular variety and grow other available varieties of potatoes.
Multinational capitalist monopolies such as PepsiCo have been given a free hand by the Indian state, to carry out contract farming in many parts of the country. On the one hand, the Indian state has not met the long-standing demand of farmers, of assured state procurement of their produce at remunerative prices. On the other hand, it has opened up the agriculture sector for the big capitalist monopolies and promoted contract farming in a big way, claiming that this will provide farmers access to higher yields, enhanced quality, training in modern practices and better prices. In reality, the state procurement sector has been systematically ruined while the state has been creating conditions for the capitalist monopolies to make maximum profits from the agriculture sector.
The case of PepsiCo and the potato farmers of Gujarat once again shows the enslaving conditions imposed on the farmers by the big capitalist monopolies through contract farming, fully assisted by the Indian state.