The organic products market in the country is looking at massive growth. With a CAGR of 25 percent, it is expected to touch 100,000 – 120,000 million by 2020 from the current market size of 40,000 million, according to a report produced jointly by Assocham and Ernst & Young. And the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) for India will help Indian produce get the market share it deserves abroad. All that you want to know about the PGS.
With domestic demand for organic food growing by the day, largely due to the health concerns, crops or vegetables grown with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or synthetic fertilizers are being shunned. Perhaps, what is encouraging is the fact that with the initiatives taken by the government, traditional farming is slowly but surely changing to organic farming.
An Assocham-EY Report on Indian Organic Market from March 2018, points out that the Indian local market assessed at Rs 40,000 million was probably going to increase by Rs 100,000 – 120,000 million by 2020. The export of organic foods would grow in a similar fashion. With this in the background, Rita Teotia, Chairperson of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), said that she expected the Union Agriculture Ministry’s Participatory Guarantee Scheme (PGS) to incentivise more farmers to grow organic food. “Certified organic food production is still very low. The PGS brings together a peer group of farmers and the costs are low. It is being popularized.”
So what is PGS? PGS is an internationally applicable organic quality assurance system [like ISO 9000] implemented and controlled by the committed organic farmer-producers through active participation, along with the consumers, in the process based on verifiable trust. It is not an “inspection raj” certification system but, rather, one that is based on personal integrity and peer pressure. Integrity is honesty when no one is looking over your shoulder to see what you are doing. The farmer pledges that the production process is free from manufactured chemicals [fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, hormones, etc] and lives by his word of honour. The “Local Group” of five or more organic farmers is the fulcrum of the self-regulatory support system of PGS. The quality assurance standards are harmonized by the PGS Organic Council, which permits the use of its PGS label on a product as a mark of quality.
The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements or IFOAM defines PGS as: “Participatory Guarantee Systems are locally focused quality assurance systems. They certify producers based on the active participation of stakeholders and are built on a foundation of trust, social networks and knowledge exchange.”
The PGS Organic India Council was set up after a consultation process in 2006. It functioned as an informal coalition of Voluntary Organizations or NGOs committed to the promotion of organic food production for domestic consumption in India, with export not being a priority at all. In April 2011, it was formally registered as a society in Goa as Participatory Guarantee Systems Organic Council (PGSOC).
Now, since it has been mandated that any organic food manufactured, packed, sold, offered for sale, marketed or otherwise distributed in the country has to be regulated as per the provisions of Food Safety and Standards (Organic Food) Regulations, 2017, which were notified on 29.12. 2017 and enforced from 01.07. 2018. These regulations require Organic Food to comply with the provisions of the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) or Participatory Guarantee System (PGS). However, to support small original organic producer or producer organisations, those with annual turnover not exceeding Rs 12 lakh per annum have been exempted from certification through NPOP or PGS. The Organic food covered through these regulations should bear FSSAI organic logo i.e. Jaivik Bharat logo along with PGS- Organic (or) India Organic logo.
Till today, organic producers were developing methods that secured the organic integrity of their products. These were third-party certification systems but were not followed by small organic producers because of expenses and paperwork in a multi-level system. It is to bring in a standard level of quality that the Participatory Guarantee System came into effect.
For PGS, participation is an essential ingredient and along with that, there is the principle of collective responsibility for ensuring the organic integrity of the PGS. Collective responsibility comes through the four pillars of PGS:
Participation: Stakeholders such as producers, consumers, retailers, traders, NGOs, Gram Panchayats, and government organisations and agencies are collectively responsible for designing, operating, and decision-making. Direct communication among the stakeholders helps create integrity – and trust-based approach with transparency in decision-making, easy access to databases and, where possible, visits to farms by consumers.
Shared vision: Collective responsibility for implementation and decision making is driven by a common shared vision. Each stakeholder organisation or PGS group can adopt its own vision conforming to the overall vision and standards of the PGS-India programme.
Transparency: At the grassroots level, transparency is maintained through the active participation of producers in the organic guarantee process, which can include information-sharing at meetings and workshops, peer reviews, and involvement in decision making.
Trust: A fundamental premise of PGS is the idea that producers can be trusted, and that the organic guarantee system can be an expression and verification of this trust. The mechanisms for trustworthiness include a producer pledge made through a witnessed signing of a declaration and written collective undertakings by the group to abide by the norms, principles and standards of PGS.
- The government document has listed out the advantages of PGS over third-party certification:
- Procedures are simple, documents are basic, and farmers understand the local language used.
- All members live close to each other and are known to each other. As practising organic farmers themselves, they understand the processes well.
- Because peer appraisers live in the same village, they have better access to surveillance; peer appraisal instead of third-party inspections also reduces costs
- Mutual recognition and support between regional PGS groups ensure better networking for processing and marketing.
- Unlike the grower group certification system, PGS offers every farmer individual certificates and the farmer is free to market his own produce independent of the group.
A few limitations have also been noted
- PGS certification is only for farmers or communities that can organise and perform as a group within a village or a cluster of continguous villages, and is applicable only to farm activities such as crop production, processing, and livestock rearing, and off-farm processing “by PGS farmers of their direct products”.
- Individual farmers or group of farmers smaller than five members are not covered under PGS. They either have to opt for third-party certification or join the existing PGS local group.
- PGS ensures traceability until the product is in the custody of the PGS group, which makes PGS ideal for local direct sales and direct trade between producers and consumers.
Value addition, packaging, marketing of organic products have been promoted under the organic schemes of Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) and Mission Organic Value Chain Development for North Eastern Region (MOVCDNER). Different brands have been developed at the state level under these schemes for organic food marketing. With these policies and frameworks, organic farming can look forward to a better future with opportunities for entrepreneurs, farmers, and consumers.