Taking stock of 10 years of PGS in Vietnam: how do we replicate success?

Taking stock of 10 years of PGS in Vietnam: how do we replicate success?

in News

On 30 July, Vietnam National University of Agriculture and Rikolto organised the workshop “10 years of Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) in Vietnam: Sharing lessons and introducing a new PGS training toolbox”. The event concluded a one-year project funded by the Agroecology Learning Alliance in Southeast Asia to capitalise PGS experiences in Vietnam for upscaling and institutionalisation.

Vietnam’s agri-food systems are undergoing a rapid and deep transformation. While consumers have increasingly demanding needs regarding the quality, traceability and safety of their food, the supply of safe agricultural products is still largely unstable and expensive. A reliable and trustworthy quality assurance mechanism is a key condition to provide consumers with the confidence that quality standards are met. However, they are not always suitable for small-scale operators and local market channels because of the high costs involved, the paperwork required and the complexity of their requirements. To address these challenges, farmers, NGOs, and their partners have sought alternative certification systems that are better adapted to farmers’ local contexts. In 2008, the Danish NGO ADDA was the first organisation to introduce Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) to certify organic vegetables in Vietnam. Ten years later, PGS is implemented in 6 provinces and 9 districts, and involves 725 farmers.

Guaranteeing the quality of agricultural products and ensuring the commitment of all actors to sustainable value chains are two major challenges in Vietnam

Dr. Thai Thi Minh Regional Director, Rikolto in Vietnam

The purpose of the workshop was threefold: 1) to celebrate 10 years of PGS in Vietnam, 2) to share the findings of a nationwide assessment study on PGS, and 3) to introduce a new trainers’ toolbox to support practitioners to set up and operate high-quality PGSs in Vietnam. The event brought together over 60 representatives of decision-makers, academia, international partners, the private sector and NGOs.

Ms. Tu Thi Tuyet Nhung, the coordinator of PGS Vietnam recalled the different milestones achieved by PGSs in Vietnam: from the first PGS established in Vietnam by the Danish NGO ADDA in 2008 in Thanh Xuan (Hanoi) and Luong Son (Hoa Binh) to the expansion of the system to quality assurance for safe vegetables in 2010, and its current implementation across 6 provinces in Vietnam. She also stressed the need for more research institutes to become involved in research and data collection to consolidate the body of evidence in favour of PGS.

PGS contributes to changing the perception of producers and consumers on food safety, improving the working conditions and income of farmers, and developing local areas in a sustainable way.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Tran Thi Dinh Vietnam National University of Agriculture

Key findings from a nationwide PGS assessment study

Assoc. Prof. Tran Thi Dinh, the leader of the PGS assessment study, shared the main findings of the nationwide assessment on PGS that took place between November 2017 and April 2018. She presented the results of an analysis of the main strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) of PGS in Vietnam and shared a comparison between PGS and other popular certification mechanisms in Vietnam. During the study, a series of success factors were identified such as the presence of a supportive local government, strong leadership at the inter-group and local coordination board levels, overlap between cooperatives and intergroup structures, the use of participatory training methodologies for technical trainings on the quality standard, and the existence of a strong market connection to ensure farmers’ continued motivation and the sustainability of PGS.

Read more about the findings of the PGS capitalisation study in the study's Executive Summary.

Executive Summary

Sharing perspectives on the future of PGS in Vietnam

The presentation of the study results was followed by a panel discussion that raised a series of important questions: Should the government be involved in PGS and how? What is the role of the private sector in developing and/or supporting PGS? Can PGS be used to certify products for traditional markets? What is the status of PGS in the Mekong Region? How can we preserve the reputation and quality of PGS as the network of local PGSs expands? What is the added value of PGS compared to other certification and quality assurance systems?

Pierre Ferrand, coordinator of the Agroecology Learning Alliance in Southeast Asia (ALiSEA), shared his insights about ongoing PGS initiatives in the Mekong region. He highlighted the strong institutional and policy framework in place in Laos and the role of the Ministry of Trade in promoting organic agriculture in Cambodia. At the regional level, PGS plays an important role in the Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s strategy to promote safe and environmentally-friendly agriculture. Having understood the potential of PGS, ADB ambitions to convince governments to scale up PGS in the Mekong region.

From an operational point of view, Vietnam has the most advanced PGS in the Mekong region. Consumers’ maturity has increased, and it offers potential for a fast development

Pierre Ferrand Coordinator of ALiSEA

Representing the private sector, Mr. Arup Gupta from Phoenix, stressed the potential of PGS to create loyalty between farmers and buyers. As a leading trader of rice looking to source sustainable rice from smallholders, Phoenix faces the challenge of ensuring a stable and reliable supply of quality rice to meet customers’ demand. According to Mr. Gupta, PGS is based on trust, knowledge sharing and social connections. Thanks to companies’ involvement in PGS, farmers and buyers build loyalty towards each other and can guarantee a market and stable supply for PGS-certified products. Mr. Gupta highlighted the cost-saving potential of PGS compared to other quality assurance mechanisms such as third-party certifications. As a locally-based mechanism, it also enables problems to be tracked and addressed faster and more efficiently than in other systems.

According to Mr. Ngo Van Nghi from Thanh Xuan intergroup, the first PGS intergroup established in 2008 by the NGO ADDA, more support is needed from the government to establish a legal framework for PGS. This is necessary to build consumers’ trust and improve the status of PGS certificates in Vietnam. For Ms. Do Thi Tuyet, the leader of Trac Van Cooperative in Ha Nam province, more investments should be made to increase the visibility of PGS products with consumers.

Finally, Ms. Le Thi Kim Oanh from Hanoi’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, shared her opinion that local authorities have a role to play in supporting the development of PGS. The system has shown its effectiveness and potential to reduce management costs. “We are moving slowly but surely” she said, “quality is our goal”. PGS enables farmers to reduce the costs of farming inputs, which in turn, increases farmers’ profit. “Agriculture 4.0 will help improve PGS” she added.

Introducing a new trainers’ toolbox on PGS

During the course of the project, a trainers’ toolbox on PGS was developed to encourage more practitioners such as NGOs and local authorities to support the development of PGS in their area. The toolbox contains a series of documents to help trainers set up and operate PGS and train farmers on the BasicGAP standard. It is composed of a training manual on PGS, a technical guide on PGS, a training manual on BasicGAP, a technical guide on BasicGAP and 3 posters. The posters present key information on the functioning of PGS, the BasicGAP guidelines for safe vegetable production and Good Agricultural Practices compatible with BasicGAP. They will be distributed to local partners and farmers as a reminder of the rules to be followed. The PGS toolbox documents are currently being translated and will be available on the website at the end of August.

What way forward for PGS?

Over the 10 years of their existence in Vietnam, local PGSs for organic and safe vegetables have yielded positive results in terms of food safety, environmental sustainability, community development and better income for farmers. Their strength lays in their ability to incentivize smallholder farmers to produce safe vegetables and to build consumers’ confidence that they are indeed safe. In order to replicate these encouraging results, PGSs should be multiplied and upscaled to better meet markets’ increasing demand for safe and organic products. To ensure the sustainability and coherence of PGS in Vietnam, we believe that a legal framework must be built to recognise and support the development of PGS in Vietnam. Rikolto remains available to support and advise interested actors in establishing new or joining existing PGSs.

Read about our policy recommendations for PGS in this policy brief!

Policy Brief


Rikolto would like to express its sincere gratitude to all the farmers, consumers, representatives of companies, local authorities and NGOs for their participation in the PGS capitalisation study. A special thanks goes to the members of the PGS task force involved in developing the PGS toolkit for practitioners: Ms. Tu Thi Tuyet Nhung, Head of PGS Vietnam’s Coordination Committee, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Do Thi Ngoc from Vietnam University of Commerce (VCU), Dr. Tran Thi Thanh Binh from Vietnam National University of Forestry (VNUF), Ms Pham Kim Oanh (MSc) from Vietnam Organic Agriculture Association (VOAA), and Dr. Pham Thanh Hai from North Vietnam College of Agriculture and Rural Development (NVCARD). Finally, we’re very thankful to the Agroecology Learning Alliance in Southeast Asia for enabling this project through its Small Grants Facility.

The PGS toolbox documents will be available on the website at the end of August.