People buying organic products are often concerned whether the product they want to buy has actually been produced according to organic standards. They can rely on an external agency (either private or government) to provide that guarantee or rely on the network of people and organisations involved in the production, distribution and consumption/use of the organic product for guaranteeing the organic quality of the product. A guarantee system based on the involvement of people/organisations directly involved in the organic supply chain is called a PGS (Participatory Guarantee System).
Currently, there are dozens of Participatory Guarantee Systems serving farmers and consumers around the world, from western countries such as New Zealand and the USA, to Asian countries, such as India and Thailand, and Latin American countries, such as Brazil and Peru. In all these countries, PGS are created by the very farmers and consumers that they serve. Of course, the PGS in these countries vary in details of methodology and process because they are adapted and specific to the local conditions (communities, geographies, politics and markets). However, the different PGS are quite consistent in their core principles.
PGS share a common goal with certification by external agencies in providing a credible guarantee for consumers seeking organic produce.The difference lies in the approach: the PGS encourage or even require direct participation of farmers and consumers in the certification process. Direct involvement enables PGS programs to have less paperwork and record keeping, which is important for including small farmers into an organic production system and for keeping the costs of certification low.
In 2004, the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) adopted the PGS as a valuable guarantee system for organic products particularly for local markets. IFOAM then set up a Task Force to develop the PGS approach in further detail. With the assistance of members of this Task Force the ADDA-VNFU organic agriculture project introduced the idea of the PGS to a range of producers, traders and consumers it was working with as well as to some interested researchers and (local) NGOs. These stakeholders in October 2008 agreed to adopt the PGS as their guarantee system for organic products