Four farmers in India only boast a few acres each, but a special potato they're growing has one of the world's biggest food and beverage conglomerates after them. PepsiCo's Indian subsidiary filed suits against the small group of farmers in early April, accusing them of planting a strain of potatoes patented for the company's Lay's potato chips, reports the Guardian. On Friday, the company offered to drop the complaints if the farmers played ball and joined thousands of other farmers in India who'd registered with the company's cultivation program, per CNN Business. That initiative provides seeds to farmers so they can grow potatoes for the potato chips. "Either join us or grow other potatoes," a PepsiCo rep says the farmers were told in court.
The suits are seeking close to $150,000 from each farmer. The Guardian notes that the lawsuits didn't go over well in India, where foreign companies swooping in to produce and sell food is a sore spot. "It's a question of India's seed sovereignty, food sovereignty, and country sovereignty," one activist says, adding that the suit was "spreading panic among the farmers." A PepsiCo spokesperson said the legal action, a "last resort," was necessary because the farmers being painted as rogues were hurting other farmers who were growing the same potatoes for the company. It's not the first time India has seen such a David-versus Goliath battle: CNN reports that small retailers there have also pushed back at giants like Walmart and Amazon infringing on their turf, getting restrictions passed in some cases. Another court hearing over the potatoes is set for June 12. (Read more PepsiCo stories.)