When the news broke that PepsiCo was suing small farmers in India for growing a potato variety that is used in its Lay’s chips, popular sympathies immediately went, of course, to the farmers. National and international pressure swiftly mounted, and in short order a humbled PepsiCo backtracked, announcing its withdrawal of the lawsuit. There was global schadenfreude at Goliath’s PR disaster and, in India, pride at being on the side of the righteous Davids.
What should not be a source of pride, however, is the fact that so many small farmers are, like the ones targeted by PepsiCo, reliant, directly or indirectly, on proprietary seeds. Typically these seeds are grown in high input (fertilizer-pesticide-
It’s time for a paradigm shift
It is time for a paradigm shift. To get a sense of what can be done, it may be useful to take a peep into recent regulatory efforts in Europe. The EU Regulation on Organic Production and Labelling of Organic Products, adopted in 2018, for the first time permits and encourages, inter alia, the use and marketing for organic agriculture, of “plant reproductive material of organic heterogenous material” without having to comply with most of the arduous registration and certification requirements under various EU laws. Heterogenous materials, unlike current proprietary seeds, need not be uniform or stable. Indeed, the regulation clearly acknowledges based on “Research in the Union on plant reproductive material that does not fulfil the variety definition… that there could be benefits of using such diverse material… to reduce the spread of diseases, to improve resilience and to increase biodiversity.” Accordingly, the regulation removes the legal bar on marketing of “heterogenous materials” and encourages its sale for organic agriculture, thus clearing the way to much more expansive use of indigenous varieties.
Click here to read the complete article in The Hindu
Mrinalini Kochupillai is a lecturer and Senior Research Fellow at the Technical University of Munich and Gregory Radick is a Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Leeds