|PGS FAQs - Understanding PGS in Relation to Third Party Certification|
Can we call PGS a system of certification or is the term certification reserved only for the 3rd Party Systems?
There has been a trend in the Organic movement in Northern countries to define the term “certification” as only Third Party systems of certification. This is a point of frustration for those in developing countries and especially in the PGS movement who believe that “Third Party” is a qualifier for just one type of certification or quality assurance. In fact, they feel that limiting a dictionary term such as “certification” in this way is similar to what the EU and US have legally done when they declare that the term “Organic” can only be used to describe products that are (third party) certified. In fact, Organic is a system of production and PGS is first and foremost a system of quality assurance for organic farm products. The steps taken to make this claim are consistent, codified and credible so, they argure, PGS is clearly a system of certification.
The PGS approach to certification is non-hierarchical and uses less paperwork than a Third Party System so sometimes that confuses people, but that doesn’t mean it is less of a certification system. The systems that were developed are appropriate to farmers that they deal with. For example, the importance that PGS programs place on social control to avoiding (and reporting) non-compliances requires that the farmers are fully invested in the certification program – “their” certification program, and this necessitates a non-hierarchical approach.
In addition, PGS programs take the view that with small farmers, many non-compliance issues are actually because of lack of knowledge. As a result, knowledge sharing and capacity building for farmers are integral to obtaining PGS Certification. The deep involvement that farmers –and often local consumers– have in the certification process is seen as entirely appropriate and necessary to providing a credible guarantee and certification that products meet organic criteria.
Some other requirements necessary for farmers to obtain PGS Certification include mechanism to ensure that farmers understood the organic standards they are committing to, participated in peer inspections (of their own farm and at least one other farm) and making a publicly recorded pledge or declaration to uphold organic standard. Where appropriate, some PGS programs have included mandatory attendance in training sessions at key times of the growing season.
Aren't 3rd Party Certification Agencies going to fight this? Does PGS "Compete" with 3rd Party Certification? Will Third Party Certification systems suffer as PGS programs continue to grow?
PGS and Third Party certification systems are complimentary and strengthen each other. PGS programs are focused on small-farmers and direct markets, which brings many farmers that wouldn’t have considered Third Party Certification into a system of committed organic production. In this way, it provides a greater number of consumers with access to quality assured Organic products that would not otherwise have been available.
This helps the Organic Movement as a whole to grow which will increase the demand for Third Party Certification. For example, some of the many newly certified PGS farmers will invariably want to access export or large processing markets that are better served by Third Party systems, which they could do through an ICS. PGS programs make an excellent base for ICS programs because many of the basic structures are already in place.
Trying to "outlaw" PGS programs as a valid system of organic quality assurance and certification leads to unnecessary conflict which hurts the Organic Movement and limits the access for low-income consumers to organic products in developing markets.
What's the Difference Between PGS and 3rd Party Certification (or ICS)?
• Less paperwork in PGS programs
• More commitment and responsibility of farmers in certification process (including inspections and consequences).
• Certification mechanisms are designed to be appropriate to the local social context and small-holder farmer they are serving.
• PGS programs are often more inclusive of new/transitioning Organic Farmers
• Involvement of Consumer is encouraged
• Use of social control by involving and empowering local stakeholders thereby giving them “ownership” of the certification process
• Certification is given on “whole farm” basis rather than for single commodity products (as is the case in ICS).
• Individual farmers own their own PGS certificates, while in ICS the certificate is owned by the farmers group, an NGO or the export company.
• More empowerment and freedom in the marketplace with PGS programs as compared to ICS systems where farmers are bound to sell only the (possibly limited) products that were certified and that through the group that holds the certificate.
PGS Programs require more work and involvement from the farmer. Many Third Party ICS programs are subsidized by the export companies so the actual cost to farmers is small. What’s the advantage in PGS for a small farmer with access to export markets and subsidized ICS certification?
If the export market is good, there may not be an advantage to the farmer at all. On the other hand, ICS Certification for export markets usually just offers certification of the product that is exportable. PGS programs offer whole farm certification allowing them to market all their products as organic even to local markets. PGS programs also leave ownership of the certificate with the farmer which is not always the case with ICS systems. This gives the farmer the ability to seek out the highest paying buyer. Finally, there is a high emphasis based on capacity building in PGS programs. The learning experience of sharing with other farmers can lead to new cropping ideas and faster improvement of agricultural techniques appropriate.
Is PGS better then third party certification?
The two systems of certification compliment each other. PGS Certification, with low direct costs and the heavy emphasis placed on involvement of the farmers and local consumers is well suited to small farmers selling more locally. Furthermore, because PGS procedures are more flexible they may be more inclusive and appropriate for the local social context they serve. For example in India, PGS programs challenged by low literacy levels of their farmers decided to use video records for the farmers’ applications and declaration statement rather that a written statement.
Third Party Certification, on the other hand, with the heavy emphasis placed on detailed paperwork and third party auditing may be frustrating and unnecessarily burdensome for such farmers selling locally and directly, but the mechanisms are absolutely necessary to provide credible organic quality assurance to customers far removed from the farmers they are buying products from.
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