Tuesday, May 14, 2019


Suman Sahai

The PepsiCo case is getting curiouser. First the company filed a case against nine Gujarat farmers seeking damages of 1.05 crores from each, for growing potatoes of a variety over which it claimed exclusive rights. This was followed by a furor in the media, unusual since agriculture and farmers are not front page news at the best of times and certainly not in the middle of frenetic campaigning for general elections. Then came the news that PepsiCo was withdrawing the case, rumored as it was , amidst negotiations involving the Gujarat government that was brokering a deal in favor of PepsiCo.

Even as newsprint is being dedicated to analyzing the how and why of the company’s withdrawal, is the sober realization that though the offer for withdrawal was made at a court hearing on 26 April , the company has in fact not withdrawn the case against farmers as yet. So was the declaration that they were withdrawing the case just a jumla ? Was it just buying time to quieten the howls of protest from civil society groups till they were able to work out a deal

After an overkill action against farmers with average land holdings between 1.2 and 1.6 hectare, the company probably realized the PR disaster  of a huge multinational company suing small and marginal farmers for enormous amounts of money. It offered an out of court settlement with conditions saying  that farmers “have to sign an agreement with us to buy the seeds and sell the produce to us. Or, the farmers give an undertaking that they will never use our registered seeds without permission in future. Whatever stock they have at present, should be given to us.”

Why on earth would farmers agree to this bizarre offer ? They have committed no offence. It must be clear that farmers have acted fully within the Farmers Rights granted to them under the Indian law. Contrary to its claim of having an “exclusive” right, PepsiCo only has a Breeders Rights registration for its potato variety under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act, 2001 (PPVFRA). Breeders Rights is not an exclusive right, there are many exemptions to it.  

In the Indian legislation, legal rights have been  granted to both Breeders and Farmers. Farmers Rights grants farmers the right to save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share and sell seed of a variety protected under this Act in the same manner as before the coming into force of this Act.  This means that farmers can sell the seed of any variety , even if it has a Breeders Rights registration, for local use as they have always done. Farmers cannot brand this seed with the Breeder’s name,  in this case FC 5.

The Gujarat farmers were not selling any branded seed. They have committed no violation of the law. They can buy seed from other farmers which they have apparently done and they are fully within their rights to cultivate the crop and sell it wherever they like. PepsiCo has  no business insisting the farmer buy seed only from them or that they sell only to them. This is sheer bullying and intimidation.  

Farmers Rights in the Indian legislation was finalized after nearly ten years of negotiations with three different governments and it was discussed by two Joint Parliamentary Committees.  Its structure was finalized by an Expert Committee chaired by the legendary  Dr MS Swaminathan. This author was a member of that Expert Committee and Gene Campaign (of  which the author is chairperson) along with others in civil society campaigned ceaselessly for the rights of farmers in the Indian legislation on seeds. The PPVFRA was enacted by Parliament in 2001 and it is accepted by the WTO-TRIPS as compliant with our international commitments. 

India is the only country in the world to have enacted an Intellectual Property Rights  law on seeds that gives rights to both Breeders and Farmers. Under pressure from the multinational seed industry, every other country has given rights only to breeders which are increasingly seed companies like Monsanto and PepsiCo. 

The Gujarat government that is playing arbitrator in the PepsiCo case must do nothing to jeopardize the farmer’s interest.  The aggrieved farmers should now consider filing a suit for injunction and damages against PepsiCo, damages for the harassment and mental anguish caused and injunction against any further harassment.

Dr Suman Sahai is a scientist and chairperson of the Gene Campaign

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Declining monsoon and its effect on India.

India (and other monsoon dependent countries) are particularly vulnerable to climate turbulence because a disturbance in the rainfall timing and pattern and the total amount of water received during the monsoon period is a significant factor in India’s food self-sufficiency.
The health of the monsoon essentially determines the amount of rice,  India’s major staple food,  that will be produced. India’s monsoon period has been on average 100 days long. This is the period during which the country receives almost all the water it will get from rainfall. The monsoon period is already reduced by about 15 days so in effect the total amount of water we are getting has also gone down by some 15 %. This is having serious implications already and the situation is likely to worsen in the coming years.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Water, food supply and impact its on food importing country.

As our own experience with the south west monsoon shows us, the weather is getting increasingly uncertain. There are floods and droughts in unexpected locations, at unexpected times. Climate shocks, particularly droughts which are becoming more frequent now and occurring in unlikely locations, have caused the most upheavals in global food supplies.
The American Midwest is the world’s greatest producer of maize and soybean. The drought of 1988/89 swept through the maize-soya belt of the US. This resulted in a loss of 12 % of global maize supply, which meant maize eating food importing countries had lesser maize to import at higher prices.
The widespread drought of 2002/03, hit wheat production in Russia, Europe, India and China, resulting in a 6% reduction  in global wheat supply. At the same time, the 2002/03 drought hit rice production in India , causing a decline of 4% in rice output. When there is a shortfall in global food stocks, the biggest casualties are food importing countries that are dependent on imported food.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Growing demand of food and reducing productivity of land.

The world is demanding more food each day. This is principally due to the demands of a growing population but also because people by and large are getting wealthier and want more and better food. Coinciding with this growing demand for food is the phenomenon of climate change which has already begun to threaten food output and reduce the amount of food available.
These two simultaneous developments are threatening the stability of the global food system. On the one hand climate turbulence , chiefly floods and droughts slash away the expected harvests of major staple foods like rice, wheat and corn so that there is less available. On the other hand, a ‘getting wealthier’ class of people in both developing and developed countries is wanting and able to eat better, especially meat and other animal products like butter, ghee, cream, cheese etc.

All this is putting a lot of pressure on the land , leading to more and more intensive farming practices, using chemicals to extract the maximum out of plants and animals. So you have an overdosing of the land with chemical fertilizers to put in chemical nutrients rather than allow natural organic nutrients to build up in the soil. Along with this comes the excessive use of toxic chemical pesticides to kill the pests that follow intensive chemical farming because their natural predators that keep them in check are dead.