Participatory Guarantee Systems


The PGS system is showing well-documented success in the support and certification process:
The road map to a unified and healthy food system is connected to a well-endorsed worldwide
network of farmers that have linkages to an ethical market of exchange. 
What is PGS?

"Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) are locally focused quality assurance systems. They certify producers based on active participation of stakeholders and are built on a foundation of trust, social networks and knowledge exchange." IFOAM Organics International

PGS develop where there is shared need. Smallholder organic farmers have surplus and consumers are looking for organic assurance. 


Worldwide, PGS is seen as a complimentary alternative to third-party organic certification for smallholder farmers and producers. They are active in many countries worldwide:

PGS adopt the IFOAM Organics International definition and principles of

organic agriculture: 

IFOAM Organics International

In 2004, IFOAM Organics International with other agro-ecological organisations in South America articulated the basic elements and features of existing farmer organizations worldwide who were working in a participatory way with consumers and local markets. These initiatives shared their knowledge and experiences at the workshop and IFOAM Organics International created a PGS task force and started actively promoting the concept. 


The mission of the IFOAM Organics International’s PGS Committee is to facilitate and encourage Participatory Guarantee Systems around the world and, while they work to identify and synthesise key elements and characteristics of a PGS, maintain a fundamentally open and inclusive attitude to the many various ways a PGS can function”. 


For more information on PGS and IFOAM Organics International please go to:


PGS South Africa (PGSSA) is a non-profit voluntary association of farmers, producers, retailers and consumers. Our objective is to support the establishment of Participatory Guarantee Systems in South Africa to facilitate market access for local organic growers and to create an environment where consumers are assured of the integrity of organic products. 


To achieve this we aim to:

  • Support the training and development of smallholder farmers farming using organic and agroecology principles

  • Develop a sustainable market access system for producers

  • Maintain the integrity of products by promoting and implementing transparent, horizontal, producer-focused Participatory Guarantee Systems


Established or developing PGS groups may apply for membership to PGSSA by completing the application and self-assessment forms which may be found here: 


It is important to note that the completion, not the result, of the self-assessment questionnaire is a requirement for membership of PGSSA. Once a member, the PGS group has access to assistance from PGSSA to implement mechanisms to support the characteristics of PGS where they are either absent or still developing.

Since PGS are developed by the communities in which they exist, they are all unique. 
In developing a PGS it is necessary to:
  • Identify the stakeholders – organic farmers, farmers farming without chemicals pesticides and fertilizers, customers and consumer organisations, local markets, NGO’s and existing farmer organisations in the area

  • Identify resources needed for implementation, continuity and sustainability of your PGS

  • Create mechanisms to support the six basic elements and ten key features of PGS

“I think that is very important in the unfolding future is that we stand as individuals but we associate ourselves with other individuals through collaboration and that’s what really PGS offers - is a network of likeminded people who would support other people in achieving an outcome which really belongs to the children – this development of the soil.”

Alan Rosenberg – Organic Agriculture specialist
and PGS participant.

PGS 10 key features

  1. Grassroots Organization – managed horizontally and with equal participation

  2. Seals or labels providing evidence of organic status. 

  3. A commitment document, e.g. a farmer’s pledge stating agreement with the established norms. 

  4. Clear and previously defined consequences for non-compliance 

  5. Mechanisms for supporting farmers to produce organic products and be recognized as organic farmers

  6. Mechanisms to verify farmer’s compliance to the established norms and systems of production

  7. Documented management systems and procedures

  8. Principles and values that enhance the livelihoods of farming families and promote organic agriculture 

  9. Suitable to smallholder agriculture

  10. Norms conceived by the stakeholders through a democratic and participatory process

PGS six basic elements: 


1. Shared vision

A PGS community share a vision – one based on shared need and their commitment to the principles of PGS  and organic agriculture. 


“Participatory Guarantee Systems subscribe to the same ideals that guided yesterday’s pioneering organic farmers. PGS programmes require a fundamentally ecological approach to agriculture that uses no synthetic chemical pesticides, fertilizers or GMO’s and further sustains farmers and workers in a cradle of long-term economic sustainability and social justice. The primarily local and direct market focus of PGS programs encourages community building, environmental protection and support to local economies.” IFOAM – Organics International


2. Participation

A community exists when there is “active involvement of people in the issues which affect their lives". It is a process based on the sharing of power, skills, knowledge and experience. (Community Development Foundation UK)


All members of a PGS participate in the work of the group in the following ways:


  • In the development of the processes and procedures that guide the group; the organic standards they choose to develop or adopt; and the consequences for non-compliance;

  • In the farm visits – farmers and other stakeholders visit the farms to assess compliance with the organic standards;

  • In the administration – documenting the  farm assessment; developing certificates confirming farmers’ compliance with their chosen organic standards; logging planting and harvesting records;

  • In the marketing – communicating the effectiveness of PGS as a system of integrity.


3. Transparency
  • The system is open to scrutiny by all stakeholders – farmers, NGOs, markets, consumers - how it works and according to what criteria.

  • It is open to the customers – they after all, are eating the food that the farmers are growing. They are invited to visit the farms.

  • It is open to all farmers in the group. The transparency within the community of farmers ensures compliance with the organic standards adopted by the group.

  • This transparency does not mean that a farmer’s intellectual property is compromised – just that the systems and processes are transparent, understood and complaint with organic principles.

  • Transparency ensures integrity.



4. Trust

The farm visits, the annual PGS group meetings, the seed exchanges, the knowledge exchange, the regular contact with customers – all of these interactions between stakeholders builds trust – trust in the organic integrity of the products and trust in the system of assurance



5. Learning Process

The conversations, questions and revelations during farm visits increase the knowledge of the group – they share solutions and problems – they share success and inventions. 

Customers too share in this knowledge exchange – they are educated in the process of PGS – they may join farm visits and learn more about their food – how it is grown and what the challenges are. They are often informed and share their knowledge with the group.

Indigenous knowledge is shared between members of different cultures.

As a group, the farmers can more easily access innovations and developments in the organic agriculture sector. 

All participants in the group are enriched by their association.



 6. Horizontality

PGS groups have a flat organisation structure. Control is never centralised 

Horizontality supports the group as a living organism. The PGS group constantly responds and adapts to the participation and actions of all of its members. 

No one individual or organisation is in control – the group is defined by its members. They distribute the work of the group amongst those best suited to the particular skills required. They are all responsible - they are all accountable. Success is in the hands of the group. 

The experiences of each individual are communal

These principles unite a PGS community and facilitate the development of mechanisms that ensure an effective assurance system.
The principles of PGS share a common alignment to
six basic elements and 10 key features.

PGS includes the important process of farmers being assessed by their peers, as well as other stakeholders like consumers and local interest groups

Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people.


It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects.


Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.

Food sovereignty is the right of all peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agricultural systems.


It puts the aspirations of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.


Food sovereignty promotes transparent trade that guarantees just incomes to all peoples as well as the rights of consumers to control their food and nutrition. 


It ensures that the right to use and manage lands territories, water, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those that produce food.

Food sovereignty implies new social relations free of oppression and inequality between men and women, peoples, racial groups, social and economic classes and generations.


- an excerpt from the declaration of the Forum for Food Sovereignty, Mali, 2007

The SAOSO Standards for Organic Production and Processing

PGS is included in the standards as an alternative to 3rd party certification for smallholder farmers’ access to local markets. PGS groups wishing to make use of the “PGS Endorsed: SAOSO organic logo will need to apply through PGSSA for approval. The criteria and requirements for approval are laid out in the standards document which you may find here: 





PGSSA Communication & Support:  

Siphiwe Sithole, Chairperson:          

Matthew Purkis: Vice-chairperson:   

Raymond Auerbach, Treasurer:        


Contact PGSSA Committee


South African Organic Sector Organsiation


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