Multinational beverage and snacks maker Pepsi Co has finally withdrawn the case against four Gujarati farmers from the Sabarkantha district over growing "a registered potato variety" after it faced severe backlash from activists, political leaders and social media. A nearly month-long confrontation between the US headquartered Pepsi Co and the farmers finally ended after the deputy chief minister of Gujarat, Nitin Patel, stepped in and pledged for " an out of court settlement" between the two groups.
In the ongoing election season, both the rival political parties, BJP and Congress, made their support clear in favour of the farmers who were sued for Rs 1.2 crore each by PepsiCo. On Twitter alone, the conversation revolving around the boycott Pepsi campaign reached 14 million users, creating 18 million impressions. In the top five Indian cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Pune and Chennai.#BoycottPepsi hashtag trended on Twitter and generated 39 million impressions and 10,800 conversations, the Economic Times reported.
On ground, 190 activists pledged their support for the poor farmers and asked the central government to withdraw "false cases" against them.
PepsiCo forced to issue statement?
Fearing a severe backlash and even boycott in India, the PepsiCo's US and Dubai arms asked the local Indian office to resolve the matter immediately after which the beverage maker issued a statement calling for the withdrawal of the lawsuit.
""We are relying on the said discussions to find a longterm and amicable resolution of issues around seed protection," the company statement said after it had earlier cited infringement of the intellectual property rights under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001 by the farmers who had grown FC5 variety of potato crop in their fields which was registered by the PepsiCo. The farmers, however, had made it clear that the seeds were locally acessible and they have been growing the same for years now.
PepsiCo has been using the FC5 variety in their popular Lays chips because of its lesser water content which is highly suitable for processed foods.
In a statement released earlier, PepsiCo had offered farmers to enter its collaborative farming programme which would give them acess to higher yields and better quality of seeds at best prices. The farmers, however, stood their ground and refused to join hands with the food conglomerate.
""PepsiCo should have been mindful about the consequences of what they did in the first place.This was a bad move, and when you make a mistake as big as that, you have to correct it as quickly as possible. PepsiCo didn't have an option but to withdraw the cases," Santosh Desai, brand expert and social commentator said.
Meanwhile activists are hailing the withdrawal of the case by the PepsiCo as a victory for the famers . ""Seed freedoms have remained unaffected in this case due to farmers' organizations and citizen pressure. Farmers hope that PepsiCo and others would have learnt a good lesson about farmers' rights in India's PPV & FR Act, 2001 from this episode and hope that such harassment of farmers will not get repeated," said Kavitha Kuruganti, co-convener of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture told the Mint.