Last update: April 8, 2019
Group certification is the dominant approach for organic certification of smallholder farmers in developing countries. Currently, it is used to certify millions of farmers worldwide. Group certification is done through Internal Control Systems (ICS), which allow certification bodies to delegate the annual inspection of individual group members to a specified body within the certified operator.
Internationally harmonized requirements for how group certification is practiced have been developed in the early 2000s thanks to an international multi-stakeholder process facilitated by IFOAM. Within the IFOAM Organic Guarantee System, Group Certification is regulated by a specific set of requirements in the IFOAM Accreditation Requirements for Bodies Certifying Organic Production and Processing which must be implemented by all IFOAM-accredited certification bodies. Those requirements have been subsequently taken up by the various organic regulations, such as in the EU organic regulation, or USDA National Organic Program. Group certification is also practiced in other socio-environmental schemes, such as fair trade, UTZ-Rainforest Alliance, or FSC.
See also our main group certification page for more background information on Internal Control Systems.
After 15 years of implementation, there are lessons to be learned about how effective current group certification requirements are and where they could be refined. In autumn 2018, the Swiss Research Institute for Organic Agriculture (FiBL) conducted an extensive study on the scale, achievements and outlook of group certification, with IFOAM - Organics International as a project partner. Based on a stakeholder survey and expert interviews, the study examined the importance and implementation of existing group certification. It identified a need for some additional guidance and strengthening of selected criteria in order to ensure consistent and reliable implementation of the concept worldwide. The need for more guidance and clarity was echoed by IOAS, the accreditation body implementing IFOAM Accreditation.
The EU Commission is about to develop further guidance for group certification, following the publication of the new EU organic regulation in May 2018, which will allow group certification also within the EU.
It is therefore a timely moment for IFOAM-Organics International to open a multi-stakeholder consultation process to review, harmonize and refine group certification requirements. IFOAM-Organics International, therefore, has decided to initiate an urgent process to review and strengthen some of its group certification requirements and hopes to provide input in the EU’s process to set meaningful new control requirements for groups in the EU and elsewhere in the world. The aim is to ensure smallholders’ continued access to certification, and a consistent level of implementation world-wide to safeguard the efficacy of the concept as well as ensure the integrity of organic products certified through group certification.
As a first step, in April 2019 stakeholders are asked to provide online feedback on key questions in the survey accessible below. In May 2019, IFOAM-Organics International will organize an expert workshop involving certification bodies, organic associations, producers and traders, development experts and competent authorities to come to a harmonized and agreed consensus on proposed changes to provide a position to the EU Commission and as a basis for a future revision of the IFOAM Accreditation Requirements.
Take the survey here before April 24, 2019, or get in touch by email to ogs@ ifoam.bio, stating your name, organization and country, and your requests/suggestions for us to consider when further developing guidance on this topic.