Participatory Guarantee Systems: an alternative model of community certification

24 September 2022

How can you certify a good, clean and fair product without using third-parties?

This is the question that many producers in the Slow Food network have asked over the years. Since 2018, the answer has been Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS). But what are they and how do they work? Today at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto we discussed them with the people working to develop them, from producers to international organizations.

The first to propose these PGS were our friends from IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements), back in 2008. “Participatory Guarantee Systems are based on active participation of all stakeholders and are built on trust, interdependence and knowledge exchange. There was a need to reconcile a whole range of alternative certification initiatives that already existed,” said Flavia Moura Castro, Senior Organic Policy and Guarantee Coordinator. In fact, these are product quality assurance models under which the local community collectively oversees compliance with shared production standards and which “allow us to give local communities a tool in national and international processes,” echoed Rissa Edoo, of the UNDP-FAO Mountain Partnership Slow Food’s partner in this journey.


Slow Food began to enter this world through the Presidia project in 2018. Indeed, we wondered how it was possible to certify good, clean and fair products without having access to the economic resources needed to obtain third-party certifications. The consumer needs to know that products from local and family supply chains are good, but how? The Slow Food Coffee Coalition project shows an example, presenting six coffees from five communities certified under the PGS system at Terra Madre. Even more ambitious is the attempt to apply the system not only to the product but to a project itself such as the Earth Market in Krakow, Poland.

Small-scale producer coffee from the Slow Food Coffee Coalition at Terra Madre 2022. Photo: Alessandro Vargiu

Training, representation and technical assistance are the key concepts that emerged from the discussions of the small-scale producers involved, who come from from Nepal, Lesotho, Rwanda and Guatemala. “We are trying to work on products like ginger and turmeric,” said Krishna Pokharel from Nepal. “This is a very simple system for communities and allows them to benefit from training tools.” In Lesotho, on the other hand, they have just started the process, working on sorghum and legumes. “Certification allows us to tell the consumer how our work has been done and allows us to involve all the actors in the supply chain. Everyone understands that they are part of this system and shared quality standards are met,” concluded Mirriam Moteane. Increasing the resilience of local communities is also what Joel Byiringiro from Rwanda, who works together with four cooperatives, emphasized.

A dream come true

“Getting here to present our project is a dream come true,” said Olga from Guatemala. “We started with three women; now there are 30 women coffee producers working in the community who are certified through this system. We could never have had access to third-party certifications and we had lost hope. No one wanted to listen because we are women. So we came together among ourselves and worked to be able to have access to the market. Today with our work we have been able to support ourselves and our children’s jobs.”

Stephany Escamilla’s experience with the Slow Food Coffee Coalition in Mexico is similar. “We have been working with producers for 12 years, and the first step was to give producers a stimulus, a vision of economic sustainability of their productions. These are not easy processes, they are not fast processes, but they are the only possible tools for small-scale supply chains. Quality, transparency and traceability have been our guidelines, and we have moved from selling to improving quality. We have expanded the number of producers, created a network of roasters interested in supporting producers in this continuous improvement process, organized trainings and created control and monitoring tools. It is not a quick and easy path, but it is certainly the only one possible for us.”

The complexities are many, but interest in PGS is great. It will take patience and time, but we are working together and making progress along the long path forward.

Terra Madre Salone del Gusto is in Parco Dora, Turin, from September 22-26, 2022, with over 600 exhibitors and a series of workshops, conferences and tastings that show how we can regenerate our planet through food.

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