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Participatory Guarantee Systems

Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) are alternative certification schemes, built on trust and social networks and intended for local markets. In contrast to third party export-oriented certification schemes, farmers are directly involved in the design of the system.

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Problems and Purpose

Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) were developed as an alternative to third-party certification, promising to guarantee the regulatory compliance of organic produce based on the participation of producers and other stakeholders, and are built on participation, trust, social networks and knowledge exchange.[1]

Origins and Development

Organic agriculture has emerged as a competitive sector in many countries in recent decades, bringing with it a host of regulations, support programs, and subsidies. Control and certification systems for organic production and imports often rely on third-party certification (TPC) to ensure the conformity or compliance of organic agriculture (and its products) within the regulatory framework.[2] 

Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) were introduced in the early 2000s[3] in response to criticism of TPC for being expensive for producers, causing consumers to pay more for products, not being adapted to local circumstances, being hard for small producers to achieve, making agriculture more bureaucratic, simplifying production processes, and for not always being clear about the procedures the TPC bodies are implementing.[4]

Participant Recruitment and Selection

How it Works: Process, Interaction, and Decision-Making

The term Participatory Guarantee System was first presented and analyzed during a 2004 workshop run by the Latin American Organic Agriculture Movement (MAELA), International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) and the Centro Ecológico in Torres, Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil).[5]

PGS were defined by the group as “quality assurance initiatives that are locally relevant, emphasize the participation of stakeholders, including producers and consumers, and operate outside the frame of TPC.”[6] The basic elements of PGS, according to IFOAM, are participation, a shared vision, transparency, trust, being a learning process, and horizontality.[7]

PGS are expected to be culturally appropriate, require less paperwork than TPC, and are linked to local and alternative commercialization channels: those based on the reconnection and close communication between producer and consumer, building new forms of relationships and governance of the network of actors.[8] 

PGS involves the farmers and consumers in the process of developing and administering the certification. With PGS, the farmer’s signed agreement is publicly disclosed to ensure a greater level of public involvement, farmer commitment, and overall transparency.[9]

With its emphasis on knowledge building for the farmer, PGS appear to help producers improve production, achieve political independence, boost livelihoods and establish social networks, and are thought to be appropriate for small producers due to their participatory and horizontal structure allowing a more suitable and less costly system of certification.[10] 

A PGS initiative should reflect a community’s capacity to prove trust through the implementation of diverse social and cultural control instruments in order to provide information to guarantee the integrity of their organic producers.[11]

Since their creation, Participatory Guarantee Systems have been adopted around the world. Many regions in East Africa have adopted the practice, such as Towelo Village in Eastern Tanzania.[12] 

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

Analysis and Lessons Learned

See Also

Participatory Guarantee Systems in Towelo Village, East Tanzania


[1] Marta López Cifuentes, Christian Vogl, and Mamen Cuéllar Padilla, “Participatory Guarantee Systems in Spain: Motivations, Achievements, Challenges and Opportunities for Improvement Based on Three Case Studies,” Sustainability 10, no. 11 (November 7, 2018): 1, doi:10.3390/su10114081.

[2] Cifuentes, Vogl, and Padilla, “Participatory Guarantee Systems in Spain,” 2. 

[3] Cifuentes, Vogl, and Padilla, “Participatory Guarantee Systems in Spain,” 3.

[4] Cifuentes, Vogl, and Padilla, “Participatory Guarantee Systems in Spain,” 2. 

[5] Cifuentes, Vogl, and Padilla, “Participatory Guarantee Systems in Spain,” 3.

[6] Christopher May, How Participatory Guarantee Systems Can Develop and Function (Germany: IFOM, 2008), v,

[7] May, How Participatory Guarantee Systems Can Develop and Function, 4.

[8] Cifuentes, Vogl, and Padilla, “Participatory Guarantee Systems in Spain,” 3.

[9] “Certified Veganic - U.S.,” Veganic Agriculture Network, October 3, 2011,

[10] Cifuentes, Vogl, and Padilla, “Participatory Guarantee Systems in Spain,” 3.

[11] Cifuentes, Vogl, and Padilla, “Participatory Guarantee Systems in Spain,” 3.

[12] Katto-Andrighetto, Joelle. Participatory Guarantee Systems in East Africa : Case Studies from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. IFOAM in Germany, 2013,

External Links

PGS Guidelines:


Lead image: Green Road,