The imperative role of Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) in organic agriculture and agro-ecology

As the organics sector steadily grows in South Africa, there is support for smallholder farmers’ inclusion. The recently released SAOSO Organic Standards for Production and Processing include Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) as an alternative to third party certification, enabling market access for smallholder farmers. PGS is a locally focused assurance system of organic production whereby farmers are assessed by their peers and other stakeholders.

Assessment methods vary, but most commonly entail annual, documented farm visits by a group of stakeholders.

By nature, PGS relies, in part at least, on the shared vision of a farmer with their immediate neighbours. PGS capitalizes on the strength of the collective, not only through a means of organic guarantee, but also through shared transport to market, price negotiation, and shared knowledge, meaning that previously marginalized smallholder farmers and, in fact, whole communities are empowered.

PGS, as a principle, is growing fast in SA. The onus on specific communities to develop mechanisms and processes best suited to their culture and community helps ensure that they remain community-driven initiatives, while the alignment to the six basic elements of PGS (shared vision of organic agriculture; participation of all stakeholders, farmers, markets and customers; transparency; trust; the exchange of knowledge; and a flat organizational structure) maintain the credibility of the PGS accredited farmers.

For more information on Participatory Guarantee Systems, visit the South African Organic Sector Organisation website and IFOAM Organics International website.