PGS in practice

We’re excited to start a PGS in our region. How can we get started?

IFOAM provides a number of resources to assist in starting a PGS program both online and in print, including links to PGS operation manuals and case studies from around the world. There are also the IFOAM PGS Guidelines, which elucidate key principles and characteristics of a PGS along with examples of how they have been practically incorporated in programs around the world. These guidelines will be soon updated to include more practical examples of real PGS initiatives that have been implemented in the past years.

Because there is not one set way to design a PGS initiative, consider contacting a PGS in a country where farmers face similar socio-economic conditions as farmers in your country.

Is there a manual or guide on how to set up PGS?

Yes! Very much in the spirit of PGS, IFOAM has commissioned a guide to starting a PGS that uses examples to illustrate the various ways that different PGS around the world have integrated the principles and characteristics of a Participatory Guarantee System. You can pick and choose which systems would work best for your region and situation.

Is there a perfect PGS I can look at? What is the best PGS in the world to copy?

PGS initiatives around the world embrace certain principles and characteristics of a Participatory Guarantee System. The specifics of how they accomplish this vary, based on the social context they were created to serve. The “perfect” PGS in the United States wouldn’t fit well within the Indian social context at all for example. You can look to the IFOAM PGS Guidelines and other publications to see various examples. Also look for an established PGS operating in a social context similar to your own.

What does the term participatory mean (who participates and how)? Who should we include when we start our PGS?

A principle of PGS is that they are actively inclusive – seeking input from all stakeholders. Primary stakeholders obviously include farmers and consumers, but farmers NGOs, consumers groups, environmental groups and local and regional government agencies may all be involved in the PGS.

We already have an organic group. How do I know if it is a PGS? What do I need to do to make it a PGS?

IFOAM has developed a Self-Evaluation Form (SEF) and voluntary registration system for PGS initiatives. The leading questions in the SEF take you through the principles and characteristics of PGS. You can choose to be listed in IFOAM Global Online PGS Database and you can also choose to make your answers to the SEF available on the website, so that other PGS initiatives can see what you’ve done and hopefully offer comments. You can also apply for official IFOAM recognition of your PGS initiative, to be listed on a special part of the database and get access to the IFOAM PGS Logo, which you can use in your communication materials, but not on the organic products.

Can our PGS be accredited by IFOAM or some other international agency?

There is no international accreditation by IFOAM or any other agency for PGS initiatives. In fact, a "key characteristic" of the PGS movement is that they are locally focused and non-hierarchical, so the idea of accreditation doesn’t seem appropriate. However, IFOAM has developed a quality review system for PGS initiatives and offers an official IFOAM recognition to the applicant PGS initiatives that successfully pass an evaluation done by IFOAM and the IFOAM PGS Committee.

When you say PGS initiatives are oriented towards small farmers that sell locally and directly, how do you define “local”?  What about “small”?

These questions are decided by the stakeholder farmers and consumers based on what is most appropriate to their situation. Different PGS have approached these questions differently – by country, region, state or even based on a specified number of miles. Some PGS have been legitimized across neighboring national boundaries.

A distinguishing characteristic of PGS is the lower direct costs as compared to individual third-party certification. What are the indirect costs associated with PGS and what involvement is expected of farmers?
Different PGS require different levels of farmer involvement but, at a minimum, farmers (and hopefully also consumers) are integrally involved in peer- reviews of each other’s operations. This is seen by many as one of the significant benefits of a PGS because it encourages the sharing of information between farmers and general capacity building. Farmers are also usually involved at the local level in directly deciding on standards adopted, questions of certification as well as consequences for irregularities based on pre-agreed upon guidelines for managing non-compliance.

PGS place a high emphasis on the fact that they aren’t hierarchical and run in a more decentralized fashion. So who makes the final decision about what inputs or practices are allowable or not allowable in PGS Organic farming systems?

PGS is a system of quality assurance, not a system of production. Both PGS and third-party certification systems are based on the same Principles of Organic Agriculture, so allowable inputs in PGS certified Organic agriculture are generally the same as those in third-party certified Organic Agriculture.

Some of the ways PGS initiatives have approached answering specific questions include but aren’t limited to:

  • An advisory board, formed by representatives of the different stakeholders involved in the process, that makes decisions about specific products and practices;
  • Use of an internationally recognized standard for Organic Agriculture, such as the IFOAM Standard;
  • Use of other information sources, like the Organic Materials Research Institute (OMRI) that provides a list of allowable and prohibited products.
  • Official or unofficial link-ups with a regional third party certifier that can help advise on specific inputs and practices.
  • Subscribing to an “official” production standard (for example the NOP in the US or the NPOP in India) which provides a considerable amount of support material to help answer such questions.
Is PGS a viable organic certification system? What is the difference between PGS and ICS?
How does PGS work? Why do we need PGS?
Back to PGS Basics
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