By Maria Alice F. C. Mendonça, Ph.D. student in Rural Development at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul/Brazil and Wageningen University/The Netherlands
Below my contribution to the IFOAM Global newsletter on Participatory Guarantee Systems published bimonthly. See the IFOAM PGS webpage for more information. Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) are locally focused quality assurance systems that certify producers based on active participation of stakeholders and are built on a foundation of trust, social networks and knowledge exchange.
The Brazilian regulation for organic and agroecological production was introduced in the 1990’s in response to international restrictions on Brazilian organic products. Nevertheless, the agroecological movement stayed prominent and actively participated in discussions and negotiations with the government. As a result of this interaction between government and the agroecological movement, a series of laws, decrees and federal regulatory instructions for organic and agroecological production was enacted, e.g. the Organic Law and its respective regulatory instructions. Moreover, the National Policy on Organic Production and Agroecology (Política Nacional de Agroecologia e Produção Orgânica) and the National Action Plan for Organic Production and Agroecology (Plano Nacional de Agroecologia e Produção Orgânica) were released in 2012 and 2013 respectively. They settle the strategies for government investments in the expansion of agroecological production.
Currently, Brazilian farmers have three options to ensure the organic and agroecological quality of their produce: 1) Third-party certification; 2) Participatory Assessment Bodies; and 3) Social Control Organizations. These last two are systems operate at a local level and rely on the active participation of stakeholders. However, only the Participatory Assessment Bodies are considered as Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) in the legal sense and authorized for the use of the national organic label, which is required for non-direct sales of organic products. In contrast, the Social Control system does not grant the right to use the national label and allows only the direct sale from small-scale family famers to the final consumers.
The recognition and regulation of the Participatory Assessment Bodies and Social Control Systems by the government is a big achievement of the agroecological movement in Brazil in its struggle with the government. At the moment, there are around 13 Participatory Assessment Bodies and 90 Social Control Organizations registered at the Ministry of Agriculture. In terms of organization of the groups, the producers certified through a Participatory Assessment Body have more time-consuming and bureaucratic obligations to fulfill. They also have to register as a legal entity for assessment of compliance with the requirements. The challenge for farmers using the Social Control system is that they are required to prove their status as family farmers by presenting a special document called Declaration of Eligibility for the National Program of Family Farmers Strengthening (Declaração de Aptidão ao Programa Nacional de Fortalecimento da Agricultura Familiar). To acquire this document can be difficult, especially for urban farmers. For this reason farmers organized themselves to press for changes in the legislation, and consequently, the Ministry of Agriculture is now considering possibilities to include other categories of farmers.
The Brazilian case shows that the regulation of PGS can have a positive effect in promoting the interaction between the government and civil organizations with respect to the marketing of organic and agroecological products. Two present experiences of agroecological farmers in Southern Brazil with Participatory Assessment Bodies reveal that the regulationof PGS can also contribute to build an identity of the farmer of PGS can also contribute to build an identity of the farmer members as agroecological farmers. The formal recognition has increased the visibility and acknowledgment of their work. Besides it has also contributed to the creation of new markets and resulted in better market access for the farmers.
While throughout all the Brazilian states, various initiatives (consumer networks, local street markets and institutional markets) have been created in order to support agroecology and to shorten the value chains between farmers and consumers, the growing demand for new PGS groups (coming from farmers, consumers, micro-entrepreneurs, Non-Governmental Organizations etc. outside the existing groups), and the satisfaction of the majority of current members are signs of prosperity of the PGS and its regulation in the country.
One of the challenges PGS in Brazil is facing is the limited availability of technicians that can help farmers and supply them with information and advice. It also often remains difficult to establish the social conditions for the system to function. This means there is a considerable risk that only few groups of farmers are included into PGS, while many others are excluded. To mitigate this risk, some actions could be envisioned: 1) investment in training of technicians from government agencies, agricultural extension and health monitoring services for agroecological production; 2) encouragement ofgreater involvement of farmers from the networks of NGOs and consumers in building PGS; and 3) promotion of education for the popularization of ecologically-based agriculture and of education of conscious consumers.
The government regulation of PGS carries also some risks and downsides, some of which can also be observed in the Brazilian context. The agroecological movement in Brazil therefore stresses the importance that the regulation of PGS must not constrain the expansion of agroecological practices, for instance by creating too many rules that might discourage farmers to be creative and innovative. Also, it emphasizes the importance of having multiple schemes of organic assessment and that among the participatory types of assessment, the “labelled” products should not always be considered as better or trustworthier than the “non-labelled” ones.
To conclude, the Brazilian example shows that the adoption of PGS and its recognition by governments can contribute to the development of the organic sector committed to the re-localization of agrofood systems. At the same time, experiences from the Brazilian case also show that the regulation of PGS should be connected with multiple governmental and non-governmental actions in order to assure the autonomy and the innovation capability of ecologically-based systems.
 The Participatory Assessment Body from the North Coast of the Rio Grande do Sul; and the Participatory Assessment Body from the Agroecological Farmers of the Metropolitan Area of Porto Alegre.