Honouring the fundamentals of PGS

Honouring the fundamentals of PGS

During the course of 2023, PGS South Africa and Grow West Africa, under the auspices of the Organic Knowledge Hub for Southern Africa (KHSA), co-hosted a series of webinars addressing pertinent themes for PGS farmer groups. Afronet will be publishing the outcome of each webinar throughout 2024. The inaugural webinar focussed on the challenge of upholding the core fundamentals of PGS, prompting questions and presenting solutions derived from best practices and challenges observed globally.

Presentations were made by PGS and organic farming experts: Audrey Wainwright, Konrad Hauptfleisch and Olawumi Benedict.

The six fundamentals of PGS hold solutions to challenges

The first speaker was Audrey Wainwright, a PGS facilitator, mentor, and trainer. Wainwright, originally at Bryanston PGS in Johannesburg, South Africa, is currently part of a team supporting the establishment of PGS groups in the Cape Town area. She serves on the South African Bureau of Standards technical committee for organic production and processing, and the IFOAM- Organics International PGS Committee.

“The six fundamentals of PGS are a shared vision, participation, transparency, trust, learning process and horizontality and it seemed to me that there is such a freedom that everyone can relate to these principles,” said Wainwright.

“I have found during my years of doing PGS that if you’ve got a problem in your group or with anything – go back to the six basic elements and you’ll find the solution there.”

Wainwright continued: “It’s vital that there is a pull and a push for a PGS group to succeed  – there’s a need to sell your surplus produce, and you’ve got a need for organic assurance from your customers – that gives rise to a shared vision.

“Equally important is the participation aspect and that all farmers participate in the farm visits because they see the benefit of the PGS seal and the certificate that acknowledges that they are farming organically. This also applies to the development of the rules and standard operating procedures, where you identify what standard you’re going to use. When people develop processes and procedures themselves in a workshop together, they create ownership of that process  – which also helps new members to align.

“It is also important that farmers open their gates to each other and consumers, creating a transparent environment for knowledge sharing and trust-building. I think that in our world we have forgotten how to use trust. When we are looking in the farmer’s eyes getting to know somebody and learning to behave in a trustworthy manner – that is the best way to learn about trust.

“Personal interactions, sharing stories and exchanging knowledge builds trust between people from diverse backgrounds. The learning process is the magic thing and the challenge here lies in capturing and verifying the accuracy of these knowledge exchanges to ensure their value to the farming community.”

Wainwright concludes: “And finally, cultural diversity, seed exchanges, and horizontally structured groups are adaptable, dynamic and accountable. They are living organisms and the six basic elements and the ten key features are the glue that holds a PGS group together.

“There must be norms conceived or adopted by the stakeholders with documented management systems and procedures to verify farmer’s compliance, with clear and previously defined consequences for non-compliance. There must be a farmer’s pledge or something similar, and produce seals or labels,” she said.

PGS as a social process

Konrad Hauptfleisch, former Head of Capacity Development at IFOAM-Organics International and founder of Starfish Organic has managed the Organic Academy since 2012. Konrad has conducted training and leadership courses in over 50 countries on four continents and is an expert in organic capacity building. He has over 20 years of experience in management, facilitation, training and grassroots sector development.

Commenting on the flurry of PGS initiatives that had been brought to life over the past few years, Hauptfleisch underlined how the current state of PGS in different parts of the world. “Some PGS are not fully implemented and have varying degrees of regulation,” he said. “The European organic movement started through PGS before it was even called that – it was all farmer-focused and farmer-driven guarantee systems which preceded third-party certification. Today, Europe, North America and East Asia have the most regulated organic markets due to their significant market size for certified organic products, and in most of them, PGS is not recognised as a valid guarantee system”

Hauptfleisch continued: “Latin America is noted as a pioneer in PGS and it is also where it is now most recognised in regulation, which sometimes results in unintended consequences such as too many rules and bureaucracy, and has led some to question the initial principles. As PGS evolves and becomes more structured, there can be a lack of participation and then trust becomes an issue, and horizontality and transparency can become challenges. There can also be an increase in control systems, and the emergence of hierarchies, which also challenge some of the fundamental elements.

“Africa still offers an opportunity to re-examine PGS and consider things differently. PGS develops well where local market demand exists or has a high potential, suppliers are active with the capacity to produce surplus organically, consumers require an organic guarantee and farmers require a way to furnish it, there is an existing culture of collaboration and trust, as well as a local and short value/supply chain.

“PGS is not just about becoming a different version of third-party certification – it is a social process and a labour of love. Without a love for the soil and love for your neighbour, it will not flourish. In order to be convinced that somebody is trustworthy you have to trust them. If they break your trust then you can respond to that but the first step is always to say “Okay I trust you” and then you honour that trust. The more you build a transparent flat structure that has participation and a shared vision, the more the trust will grow.

Hauptfleisch concluded: “Participation is also crucial and delegating responsibility outside of the PGS can again lead to problems. If we lose those key PGS basic elements, it can land up in a compromised system that doesn’t quite look the way we would like it to look. When we develop a PGS, we need to think about what is the true cost of PGS? How do we put the peer back in the review? Do we go for more regulation or look beyond organic? These are all questions that we need to ask and if we honour the basic principles then it is more possible to achieve what we are trying to achieve, which is a sustainable, just, healthy food system.”

PGS elements are married to organic farming principles

Olawumi Benedict, co-founder of GROW West Africa, an NGO established to teach and train youth, women and farmers in Sustainable Organic methods of farming with the vision to reduce hunger and poverty, help to create employment, increase income and livelihood, and increase sustainable agricultural development in West Africa, complemented the webinar by bringing in her perspective on PGS.

Benedict said: “The four principles of organic agriculture are health, ecology, fairness and care, and I find it interesting to marry these principles with the six elements of PGS and see that they are actually inseparable.”

Benedict continued: “In Ghana we look at the PGS learning process as crucial to understanding and preserving soil health because it evolves, it’s not static. It’s something that has to happen over and over again as you can’t understand the health of the soil in one day – it’s a learning process.

“The principle of fairness in PGS encompasses participation and horizontality, ensuring everyone is involved without hierarchy. Fairness is about respect and justice. As a PGS team member I need to respect the farmer and the farmer needs to respect me – it’s the principle of fairness that is involved. Transparency also plays a role in understanding the system and participating equitably. Nobody is above each other, whether we are male or female, we walk in harmony together. This is the PGS element of transparency.

“The principle of care requires trust within the farming community, as well as care for managing the ecosystem in a precautionary manner and ensuring the learning process and participation continue for future generations. The principle of ecology emphasises collective responsibility for keeping the ecosystem intact. There is no PGS without “P” which is participation. Collective responsibility also falls under the principle of fairness. If you are fair to everybody, if you are facing your colleagues or farmers that you work together within a PGS, then you are going to participate because you would not want to cheat them by not participating.

“The principle of care talks so much about managing the ecosystem in a precautionary manner and this is where the element of trust comes to play as it operates from that integrity. Also under the principle of care, we have the participation and the learning process.

Benedict concluded: “When we talk about PGS, we are also talking about the four principles of organic agriculture – they are married. The interconnectedness of these allows for effective and sustainable organic farming practices.”


The diverse and multifaceted challenges as faced by farmers, communities, and organisations involved in PGS initiatives can be effectively tackled by adhering to the six fundamentals of PGS.

By emphasising aspects such as trust and capacity building, while also ensuring horizontality, appropriate regulation, transparency, ownership, and accountability, PGS groups can effectively confront their challenges and secure success for their initiatives.

To watch the full video, click here: https://youtu.be/LTTMscBjK7Q

To see the speaker’s presentations, click here: https://www.pgssa.org.za/the-challenge-of-honouring-the-fundamentals-of-pgs/

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