Participatory Guarantee System: The Inclusive Certification
In recognition of the importance of organic agriculture in the Philippines and as support the practitioners, the Government was promoted to pass Republic Act (RA) 10068 or The Organic Agriculture Law. RA 10068 intends to fortify organic agriculture in the country and put in place necessary policies to ensure further promotion and development of organic agriculture and compliance to standards.
However, Section 17 of the law states that only the third party certified products can be recognized as organic. This proves to be not favorable to the underprivileged farmers because third party certification requires huge financial capital.
Fortunately, there is a more inclusive certification known as the Participatory Guarantee System or PGS. PGS is a locally focused quality assurance system coined at the workshop held at Torres, Brazil by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). PGS was built on trust, social network, knowledge exchange, and integrity of the primary stakeholders (farmers and consumers) who conduct the certification process themselves, through compliance to certification standards, guidelines, regulations and processes similarly observed by third party certification.
PGS is a tool for improving socio-economic and ecological conditions by encouraging small-scale production and processing. PGS suits the Philippines context because majority of the farmers are small scale. It is affordable and would cost the farmers around P2,000 compared to third party certification that ranges from P30,0000 to P40,000. It is also deemed reliable because monitoring is a responsibility of the farmers who define collectively the organic standards they want to follow and is flexible enough to adapt to changes and integrate improvements.
MASIPAG (Magsasaka at Siyentipiko Para Sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura), being the first organization in the Philippines in 2004 to adapt PGS through the MASIPAG Farmers Guarantee System (MFGS) and accepted recognized by the IFOAM, initiated the development of network of PGS practitioners and supporters.
MASIPAG saw the need to develop a pro-farmer system of guaranteeing the organic integrity of their products without spending too much on certification costs. The call for recognizing PGS is a call for a more inclusive certification process. It recognizes the farmers’ rights to produce and sell organic food and products that is governed by a fair system that considers their capacity and the local context.
Series of PGS orientations and trainings were conducted all over the country which aims to educate the farmers and other stakeholders about PGS and its benefits to small scale farmers. Most of these trainings are in collaboration with the local government units and agencies, NGO partners and organic agriculture advocates, including schools and universities.
In 2013, a network of advocates and supporters of PGS was launched during the conference held by the IFOAM which is the PGS Pilipinas. The network aims to bridge the gap between the farmers and local consumers, and further develop the domestic market by helping farmers avail inexpensive certification and strengthen the production systems. Since the national government looks at organic products as premium and export product with targets geared towards the fulfilment of the requirements of the export market and none for the local and domestic market.
MASIPAG and PGS Pilipinas believe that the word “organic” should not be restricted to only those who can afford expensive third-party certification. The Organic Act of the Philippines should be flexible enough to accommodate the growing number of organic agriculture practitioners especially the small farmers who have been practicing organic agriculture even before the passage of the law. As the organic agriculture development continues in the country, the government should explore all the possible means of helping the organic producers and not tie the farmers with the restrictions of certification.