Farmers’ organisations, social scientists and rights activists have come together to defend nine Gujarat potato farmers who have been sued by multi-national corporate giant PepsiCo India Holding Pvt Ltd simply for growing a variety of potato suitable for chips manufactured and marketed with their brand name.

Worst fears of agriculturists have come true as PepsiCo, the manufacturers of popular variety of Lays chips, initiated legal suits against at least nine farmers for growing that particular variety of potato popularly known as FC-5 potato.

PepsiCo purchases 60,000 tonnes of potatoes of this variety, at least 45 millimetres in length, from growers with whom they have contractual agreement.

The farmers PepsiCo has sued have small land holdings of around 3 to 4 acres each and have grown this variety of potato with locally accessed seeds, may be from the less than 45 mm size not accepted by the MNC chips manufacturer.

In the legal suits, filed in the commercial court here, PepsiCo has sought damages of Rs 1 crore from each of the nine farmers.

Eminent farmers’ groups and civil rights activists have shot off a letter to the Centre urging it to intervene in the matter and save the innocent growers from unnecessary litigation by the MNC’s Indian subsidiary.

The activists argue that the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority Act, 2011, protects the farmers from such litigation for growing a farm produce.

In the letter to the chairman of the Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers’ Rights Authority, Ministry of Agriculture, the 200-odd activists have urged the government to ask the PepsiCo to withdraw the ‘false and untenable’ cases against the farmers.

The activists have called the litigation against the farmers ‘intimidation’ by the MNC. The Government of Gujarat too should intervene to ensure that the state’s farmers are not harassed by MNCs through such ‘bullying’ litigations, said Gujarat Khedut Samaj chief Sagar Rabari.