Certification Road Map

SAOSO provides the umbrella under which PGS-SA can provide producers with the route by which they can become formally recognised as Organic producers.

In the case of Organic products, the consumer has the perception that they have been produced in a manner which relies on natural processes, the use of safe inputs (no toxic agrochemicals), that takes animal welfare into consideration (which is the primary concern of certified livestock production) in a manner which reduces and mitigates environmental impacts and typically actively works towards the regeneration of natural resources.  Social welfare is also significant in Organic agriculture to ensure that there is no exploitation of human resources either. This is a tall order for which there must be a basis of TRUST upon which the consumers’ expectations are realised. 

Before looking at the mechanisms by which trust is conveyed, let’s look at the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM Organic International) Definition and Principles of Organic Agriculture, as these form the basis for our approach in South Africa which you will find in the SAOSO Standard:

How do I become formally recognised as an Organic Producer (Farmer and/or Processor)?

“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.

  • Principle of health:  Organic Agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible.

  • Principle of ecology:  Organic Agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them. 

  • Principle of fairness:  Organic Agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.

  • Principle of care:  Organic Agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment.”

There are three different processes by which trust is established and conveyed between producer and consumer:  




“Face-to-face” is where the consumer has a personal relationship with the producer, typically built through friendship, word-of-mouth and satisfying experience. The consumer is prepared to pay the asking price based on this personal trust.  Although there may be very little financial outlay for the producer to cultivate this trust, the time taken in doing so does carry a financial implication.


“Self-claim” is where the producer makes unsubstantiated claims of the organic nature of the product, usually via the product label which uses the word “organic”.  The ignorant consumer “blindly” places their uninformed trust in the product and is happy to part with their hard-earned money. The producer generally has very little added financial cost to including the self-claim.  Instead it is the consumer who carries the risk of buying an inferior, ethically dubious product.




Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) were formalised by the IFOAM Organic International as a recognised peer-review system whereby producers provide a formal guarantee to consumers that their products have been produced according to a recognised set of organic standards.  In South Africa we use the term “PGS Endorsed” to convey the message of recognition and build the trust.


PGS’s are based on group effort:  the typical structure consists of a group of producers, consumers and market operators, often assisted by an Organic agriculture expert, especially in the initial years of operation.  The group agrees to adopt a set of standards, in South Africa the SAOSO Standards which are a member of the IFOAM Family of Standards and thus have international recognition. The group also develops a set of assessment and record keeping documents.  Members of the group, who are in fact the peers, visit producers on a rotational basis for the annual assessment.  The findings of the assessment are documented and communicated to the producer.  These include any possible “non-conformities” to the standards and adopted procedures. Upon resolution of the non-conformities the producer is then allowed to use the PGS logo and sell their products at the associated markets.  Consumer trust is built in several ways:

  • The process is transparent.  Any consumer may ask to join an assessment visit, and in fact are encouraged to do so.  The PGS documentation is available to consumers to view and if necessary to ask questions, thereby creating trust.

  • The message of trust is further conveyed to the consumer by access through the market to members of the producer’s peers who formed the assessment team.

  • This is a “short-value chain” process which does not include any “middle men” in the processing, transport and marketing aspects, which is typical of the retail supermarket chains.

The financial implications for the producers is essentially low in that ideally, other than a membership fee to cover administrative costs, everyone carries their own expenses in the process.  The associated time and travel is where the costs come in for the producers – being a group effort, they are expected to participate in a predetermined number of assessment visits of other producers in the PGS.  The participation of individuals is thus critical to the overall success of PGS’.

An additional strength of PGS is that there is the social aspect of sharing of ideas and experiences.  They are informal training grounds through which new producers gain advice and valuable experiential insights.

In South Africa the national body overseeing individual PGS’ is called PGS-SA, standing for “Participatory Guarantee Systems – South Africa”.  It is run by annually elected volunteers who are themselves members of a PGS or individuals who wish to support the system.  

PGS-SA operates under the SAOSO umbrella, whose standards are typically those adopted by the individual PGS’.  SAOSO will licence the use of the SAOSO PGS Endorsed logo to those PGS’ which satisfy SAOSO’s criteria, found in the SAOSO standards.



Third party certification is for long-value chain marketing or those producers for whom PGS is not an option for various reasons.  In this scenario the producer applies to a certification body (CB) for certification.  After the exchange of pre-determined information, the CB will send an auditor to the producer for the certification audit – a process whereby what the producer says they do (in the application forms), what they do (did they omit any information or misinterpret the requirements of the standards?) and their record keeping systems are verified and compared to the requirements of the CB’s standards and other possible requirements, typically relating to food safety.  The audit report is submitted to the CB which makes a certification decision and communicates this to the producer.  This will include possible non-conformities (practices which do not satisfy the requirements of the standards), the required remedial actions and the time frame in which the actions must be completed.  Upon resolution of the non-conformities and payment of outstanding fees, the CB will then issue the certificate, valid for one year.

This process is confidential between the producer, the auditor, the CB and their accreditation agency.  Accreditation is required for international certifiers whose certification is crucial for international trade of certified organic goods. Accreditation finds its legal basis in international agreements.  As this is a confidential process the consumer is not able to have sight of any of the certification documentation.  Instead they place their trust in the certification and accreditation process.  In many countries there are laws which provide country-specific legal protection to the process which provides an additional basis for trust.  Unfortunately, South Africa does not have this legal protection.

The publication of “The South African Organic Sector Organisation (SAOSO) Standard for Organic Production and Processing” late in 2017 and its inclusion into the IFOAM Family of Standards on 5th December 2017 (also World Soil Day) heralded the adoption of internationally recognised private standards written by South Africans for South Africans.  


In July 2020, SAOSO entered into an agreement with Control Union who will support the standard locally. 


There are different paths available:

  • SAOSO and PGS-SA are working to ensure that there is a natural progression from PGS membership to 3rd party certification for those producers who wish to access domestic long-value chain markets.  Depending on the operational procedures of the individual PGS, membership may be recognised as satisfying the requirements of the conversion period thereby enabling “full organic” access to the markets.

  • There is the prospect that a group of small-scale PGS endorsed producers can form a “Grower Group” and apply for “Group Certification”.   This relies on the formation of an “internal Control System” (ICS) which serves much the same function as the PGS, but implements procedures which satisfy CB's certification requirements.  These are in turn based on internationally accepted protocols.  

  • Those producers who have not had PGS exposure can directly access certification.  Producers who are “new” to certification can anticipate a conversion period which is aimed at ensuring the establishment of compliant organic management practices “on the ground” and the implementation of minimal records which provide the documented proof of these practices.

So, after that explanation, lets answer the original question!  

“How do i become formally recognised as an organic producer (farmer and / or processor)?”

The answer lies in what is most appropriate for you.  

The PGS option:  

  • Is there a PGS operating in your area?  If so then approach them to determine their membership criteria.  You can be certain that you’ll be warmly welcomed and supported.

  • If not, are there other producers and a farmers’ market nearby who may be interested in establishing a PGS?  

  • Are you uncertain of the answers to either of these questions, or how to go about setting up a PGS?  Then contact PGS-SA who will guide you.

It really is that simple!  The crux comes in the work involved and the on-going commitment of all involved.  It can be and usually is a rewarding experience. City folk get the opportunity to visit farms and see where their food comes from, while producers support each other through mutual sharing and learning.  It is a wonderfully social way of community building!


The 3rd Party:  If for any reason the PGS option does not suite you, or you wish to access long-value chain markets which are unavailable through your PGS then send an e-mail to info@saoso.org, briefly listing your enterprises, so that we can refer you to a CB.  


We trust that this explanation answers most if not all your questions.  Please do not hesitate to seek clarification from us if you are unsure in anyway.


May 2018