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Sunday, July 28, 2019

Potato politics !!

It could be elsewhere too ! ~ but am fascinated by the taste of ‘potato chips’ – more so for the way it is made at ‘Gandhi chips’ at T Nagar Usman Road – the man would stand couple of steps away from the big frying vessel – the cut chips would literally fly and fall in the pan .. interesting ! .. .. many of my friends like me are addicted to all fried items – chips – more specifically potato chips – the crispy, thin slices of potato, deep fried and goes well with everything from fried rice, sambar rice, curd rice and .. .. many beverages !

Trips to Kerala be it to Cochin or Thiruvananthapuram are not complete without buying chips.  Nearer Kochin airport, at Aluva, there are so many shops selling freshly made chips – the hot selling ones here are banana chips made from the nendran variety. The plantain variety can be cooked and eaten when raw and enjoyed as a fruit when ripe. But creating the perfect banana chips is a culinary art mastered after a lot of trial and error by working on a recipe which is known to almost everyone in Kerala.  These chips are deep yellow coloured – fresh, fragrant and plentiful – there are sweeter varieties made of ripened Nendran too. 

Moving away from Kerala, in April this year – there was some legal news on potato chips too.  FMCG giant PepsiCo reportedly  sued farmers for growing the potato variety which the company uses to make its Lay’s chips.  There was massive backlash in twitter -  In what is reminiscent of previous HUL controversy where people demanded a boycott of ‘videshi’ company, PepsiCo was also  called out for being a foreign company which is trying to take undue advantage of farmers.

Media reports suggested that PepsiCo  filed a lawsuit in Ahmedabad Court  against four farmers in Gujarat citing  infringement upon intellectual rights as these farmers had grown, sold and produced the Lay’s variety of potato. PepsiCo sought  Rs 1 crore each from these farmers in lieu of the alleged damage that the company had incurred. In their petition it was stated that  PepsiCo claimed to have exclusive rights over the particular variety of potatoes.

The Farmers  said that the case will set a precedent for other crop cases in India. Citing the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority Act, 2001, Kapil Shah, who heads Jatan — an organisation dedicated to organic farming — said that the act exempts farmers from PVP rights, PTI reported. Meanwhile, over 190 activists requested the Union government to intervene in the matter and direct the FMCG giant to withdraw its charges, PTI reported.  According to the 2001 Act, a farmer is allowed “to save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this Act” so long as he does not sell ‘branded seed’. Meanwhile, PepsiCo cited Section 64 of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001, declining to comment further, according to the PTI report.

From PepsiCo’s point of view, farmer had taken undue advantage of the seeds from the earlier harvest. By growing using those seeds, farmer is now giving away the Lays potatoes, a breed developed by the company, they alleged. Some wrote on twitter – ‘let  us hope PepsiCo won’t sue people for using the same ground water used in pepsi’ – that did created a furore  .. a day later, reports stated that PepsiCo  faced a backlash after suing four Indian farmers  and  offered to settle “amicably” when the case went to court in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad. 

The case sparked outrage from farmers and others concerned that PepsiCo was using its clout to interfere with the country’s food supply. The role of foreign companies in producing and selling food in India is a hotly contested issue, particularly when concerning genetically modified (GM) crops.  The version of Pepsi was that the farmers who grew its strain of potatoes without permission were hurting the interests of the many people working with the company to produce them for its Lay’s crisps. It supplies those farmers with seeds and subsequently buys back the potatoes.

Companies such as PepsiCo have previously faced criticism for their use of natural resources, facing a boycott in one drought-hit Indian state in 2017 for allegedly using excessive amounts of water to manufacture soft drinks. A day or so later, Pepsi went on record stating that it would   withdraw its lawsuit against four Indian potato farmers accused of infringing its patent.  "After discussions with the government, the company has agreed to withdraw the cases against the farmers," said the spokesman.

Potato politics !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
28th July 2019.

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