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Participatory Guarantee Systems" (PGS) are participatory certification systems which aim to guarantee buyers or users that sustainable production practices have been respected, as recognised by a quality mark or label.

This certification is based on an assessment by peers (producers, artisans, etc.) and their community (buyers, users, distributors, local associations, etc.) who are considered to be in a position to measure compliance with these commitments. PGS provide a framework to facilitate individual or collective marketing activities for quality products and services, as well as a means of creating a sustainable, continuous learning network and a local fabric of players within an area.

They are based on 6 key elements identified by IFOAM (2008):

  1. Shared vision: where the main stakeholders (producers, NGOs, traders, consumers and even governments) collectively support the fundamental principles that guide both the production standards and the operating rules of PGS.
  2. Participatory: Participatory certification is based on the commitment of stakeholders who are involved in the production and consumption of the concerned products, including participation in the initial design and subsequent operation of the system.
  3. Transparency of the system and its actors: Transparency is created by the fact that all stakeholders, including producers and consumers, know and understand how the guarantee system works, including the standards, the guarantee process and how decisions are made. This implies the existence of basic documentation on the PGS and its availability to any interested partner. Commercially sensitive information that is compiled during the operation of PGS is to be treated confidentially.
  4. Trust: The integrity basis for PGS leans on the idea that producers are trustworthy. Thus, non-compliance is the result of an involuntary act related to a difficulty rather than a deliberate act of cheating.
  5. Learning process: The development and verification of PGS principles and rules not only lead to credibility of the quality sought, but also contribute to a continuous learning process that develops the capacities of the stakeholders involved. The exchange of knowledge and know-how between members is fundamental.
  6. Horizontality: It induces equal decision-making and thus power-sharing among stakeholders. Participatory certification engages all concerned at the same level of responsibility to assess the product and its production method.

PGS have developed in many countries because they are generally less costly than third-party certification and more appropriate for small local entrepreneurs. For example, in the field of organic agriculture, the IFOAM-Organics International database currently lists more than 223 PGS initiatives in 76 countries around the world, 166 of which are already operational and include 496,104 producers certified by their peers (IFOAM, 2019). However, the way in which GSPs are monitored varies from country to country and from initiative to initiative.

Today, a growing number of governments have taken steps to support these PGS initiatives, some of which recognise PGS as a means of verifying organic farming practices, as in Brazil and India.

"Participatory Guarantee Systems are locally oriented quality assurance systems. They certify producers on the basis of active participation by the stakeholders concerned and are built on a foundation of trust, networks and exchanges of knowledge."

(IFOAM, 2008)


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