For long, we have resisted organic certification. When some of our farmer friends asked us to simplify what the 63 pages of APEDA certification meant, it sent our heads spinning. When we learnt the cost of such a process, all we wanted to do was to keep a long distance from certification.
And then, we came across Particiapatory Gurantee Systems aka PGS popularly. PGS was different in two important ways. a) it does not cost anything for the farmer to get certified. b) as the name indicates, it works on the basis of trust and participation among farmers.
It has an operating structure with a National Council (NC) at the center and Facilitation Councils (FC) in various regions of India. Many Local Groups (LG) made up of farmers are linked to an FC depending on their proximilty. Each LG is made up of 5 or more families that farm in the same neighborhood. NGOs that have done a fair amount of work in the field of sustainability play the role of a FC.
When we applied for certification, we went around one another’s farms, filled out a pledge to be organic and also a simple appraisal document that we downloaded. Then we sent these documents to Keystone Foundation which happens to be the FC for our region.
John Mathew and his team from Keystone visited our farms less than a month after our forms were sent in. The team went around our farms, asked a few questions, we all got to know one another better and then they just left. They refused to take money even for their travel expenses. A certificate came through in mail. It was that simple. We need to repeat the appraisals every year.
There was a time when PGS was looked down upon by private certification agencies like IndoCert. But seeing how farmer-centric and effective the process is, the Indian Government has embraced PGS. Now you can get PGS certification with a government flavor! Organic product vendors are quite happy with PGS certification also. So it seems to be a model that works for all.
If you are interested in such certification, the appraisal forms can be downloaded from http://www.pgsorganic.in/downloads