Policy Brief: Building trust in safe and organic vegetable chains through Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS)

Policy Brief: Building trust in safe and organic vegetable chains through Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS)


What is PGS? How does it work? What has it achieved? What lessons have we learned? This policy brief answers all those questions and more and makes a series of recommendations about what policy-makers can do to support the development of PGS in Vietnam.

As part of the project “Capitalisation of Participatory Guarantee System experiences in Vietnam for upscaling and institutionalisation”, funded by the Agroecology Learning Alliance in Southeast Asia, Vietnam National University of Agriculture and Rikolto investigated all the existing PGSs in Vietnam to assess their strengths and weaknesses and come up with recommendations on how to improve PGS in the Vietnamese context. The paragraphs below present some of they key elements of the policy brief which can we downloaded at the bottom of this page.

What is PGS?

IFOAM, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements defines PGS as a “low-cost, locally based system of quality assurance with a strong emphasis on social control and knowledge building.” It is a simple but effective participatory certification system that involves a wide range of stakeholders such as farmers, consumers, retailers, NGOs and local authorities in agricultural products’ quality assurance. It has a lower cost and complexity than third-party certifications, making it more in line with the reality of smallholder farmers. The specific rules of each PGS are designed through contributions of all stakeholders and are adapted to fit the local context, taking into account individual communities, geographic area, cultural environment, and markets.

PGS was initially developed by IFOAM and is currently implemented in 66 countries worldwide. In Vietnam, the PGS mechanism is implemented with either one of the two following sets of standards: 1) Vietnam PGS Organic Standards which was officially admitted into the IFOAM Family of Standards in 2013 or 2) BasicGAP, a guidance document for vegetable production promulgated by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development on 2 July 2014 (Decision 2998/QĐ-BNN-NT, 2014).

Why PGS?

In Vietnam, third party certifications for organic and safe vegetables are expensive, require a lot of paperwork, and contain a lot of criteria, often too complex for smallholder farmers. PGS offers a low-cost alternative (VND 50,000 membership fee/year/farmer on average) based on simplified requirements. Furthermore, PGS rules are designed through contributions of all stakeholders, taking into account individual communities, geographic area, cultural environment and markets. This makes them more adapted to the local context.

What have PGSs achieved in Vietnam?

PGSs have yielded positive results in terms of food safety, environmental sustainability, community development and better income for farmers. In Phu Tho province, PGS enabled farmers to sell their vegetables to a leading supermarket chain at a price 1.5 to 3 times higher than that of the market. Environmental sustainability in PGS farms is ensured by farmers’ compliance with either an organic or GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) standard. While PGS organic rules prohibit the use of agrochemical fertilizer and plant protection products, under BasicGAP, farmers are required to record every single use of agrochemicals and to follow the official guidelines on their use. Farmers self-reported benefits on their own health and on soil fertility. Finally, interviewed farmers mentioned that since PGS started in their community, they had felt increased social cohesion among farmers, and had learned about their responsibility towards the community. PGS farmers regularly exchange experiences and learn from each other through fairs, trainings, and other events organised in the framework of PGS.

Learn more about PGSs in Vietnam in the Executive Summary of our PGS capitalisation study carried out with VNUA.

Executive Summary

What lessons have we learned?

A series of lessons can be drawn from PGS experiences in Vietnam, here’s a selection of the most critical ones:

  • A stable and strong market is a key success factor for PGSs. PGSs that can sell their produce to regular buyers have grown in membership and production area over the years.
  • PGSs that have invested in local promotion activities such as media coverage, workshops, seminars, a store at the local market, and agro-tourism are better-known by consumers, more trusted and have better markets.
  • In order to grow and become more sustainable, PGSs must mobilise funds from their members and retain part of the profits from PGS vegetable sales.
  • Two PGSs are currently at a standstill because of the lack of leadership of their Local Coordination Board. The very low allowance provided as compensation for their efforts doesn’t incentivise them to take action to strengthen the PGS.

In order to replicate the good results achieved by PGS in Vietnam, the government should develop a legal framework to recognise and promote PGS as a valid quality assurance mechanism for safe and organic products

Mr. Hoang Thanh Hai Vegetable Programme Coordinator, Rikolto in Vietnam

Policy recommendations

For the National Government

  • Analyse the Vietnamese institutional and policy framework related to quality assurance to identify where PGS could be integrated.
  • Delegate IPSARD to develop a plan for the official recognition and institutionalisation of PGS into government policies.
  • Identify suitable areas for PGS development and include them in government planning.

For provincial and local governments:

  • Support PGSs with land consolidation policies to facilitate the formation of farmer groups with contiguous land.
  • Promote PGSs to local communities and buyers through the organisation of field visits, fairs, and seminars.
  • Provide financial support to new PGSs to support initial training, sample residue analysis and investment costs.
  • Support PGS through comprehensive and participatory training programmes targeting farmers’ organic/safe production capacity, post-harvest handling and storage, business skills, production planning and organisational capacity.
  • Support PGSs to develop strategic partnerships with mass organisations such as the Women’s Union, Farmers’ Union and Youth Union to encourage more farmers to join and increase PGS’ visibility.
  • Identify suitable areas for PGS development and include them in government planning.

Any questions?

Hoang Thanh Hai
Hoang Thanh Hai
Vegetable and Tea Programme Coordinator
+84-24 6258 3640/41 - ext. 32