PGS: Roadmap to Promote Organic Agriculture for Smallholders in Thailand

PGS: Roadmap to Promote Organic Agriculture for Smallholders in Thailand

Published: 2020.05.25
Accepted: 2020.05.25
74
President
Thai Organic Agriculture Foundation

ABSTRACT

Organic agriculture is a farming practice which is currently increasing very rapidly globally due to the increase in demand for safe, healthy and environmentally friendly foods. However, the share of organic farming is still very low compared with conventional farming. The major constraints were the farmers perception which many of them felt that the yield received from organic farming is lower than that of conventional farming and the current third party certification system is too complicated for smallholders to understand especially in terms of record keeping. Therefore, the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) was introduced by IFOAM in order to alleviate this problem. PGS, as defined by IFOAM-Organics International, PGS, a self-certification system but with the involvement or supervision of the government agencies or NGOs, rather than a third-party accreditation system is locally focused on quality assurance systems for organic agriculture that certify producers based an active participation of stakeholders and are built on a foundation of trust, social networks and knowledge exchange.  The objective of this paper is to demonstrate the achievements of the PGS organic pilot project which is jointly carried out by the Thai Organic Agriculture Foundation (TOAF) which is a non-governmental organization (NGO) and the government agencies in supplementing the promotion of organic agriculture in Thailand. It was found that at the end of the pilot project in five provinces, there were 456 households (exceeding the original target of 250 households) who participated, covering a total area of 60 hectares, of which 152 members have been PGS certified and more are expected (as they are in the transition period). Women constituted 56. 3% of PGS members working in the field, and over 50% members carried out or participated in the implementation of PGS activities for the group. After the completion of the pilot project, TOAF still carries out the PGS programs with financial support from various departments of Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MOAC) and the provincial administrations in all regions of the country. If this type of cooperation still continues, organic agriculture farming could increase more rapidly. 

Keywords: organic agriculture, certification system, Participatory Guarantee System (PGS), Thai Organic Agriculture Foundation (TOAF), International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)

INTRODUCTION

Organic agriculture is recently increasing very rapidly in almost every country in the world. This is due to the increase in demand for organic food as a result of changing consumers’ behavior which currently prefer safe, healthy and environmentally friendly foods. According to the report published by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), it revealed that the organic producers and organic retail sales also continued to grow, reaching another all-time high. In 2018, about 2.8 million organic producers were reported or 55% increase from 2009. A total of 71.5 million hectares or about 1.5% of global farmlands were organically managed at the end of 2018. The area and percentage of global organic farmlands between 1999 and 2018 is shown in Figure 1. Australia had the biggest area with 35.6 million hectares of organic agricultural lands, followed by Argentina with 3.6 million hectares and China with 3.1 million hectares. However, most of the world organic agricultural lands were used as grasslands especially in Australia. In contrast, only 18.6 % of the world’s organic agricultural lands were arable. In terms of producers, India ranked first with 1,149,371 organic producers and followed by Uganda with 210,352 producers and Ethiopia with 203,602 producers respectively. Regarding the global organic market, it was estimated to be worth approximately US$105.73 billion (97 billion euros). The United States of America, Germany and France were the three largest markets for organic food which had the market values of US$44.25 billion (40.6 billion euros), US$11.88 billion (10.9 billion euros) and US$9.92 billion (9.1 billion euros) respectively (the exchange rate 1 Euro = 1.09 $US is applied) (FiBL Statistics, 2020).

The major constraints that make organic farming have very small percentage compared with the conventional farming are due to the farmers’ perception which many of them felt that organic farming will give lower yields and it is not yet sufficient to compensate with a small increase in prices of organic products. Furthermore, in order to receive the higher price, the products should be certified to increase the consumers’ confidence to pay more. In addition, the present third party certification system is, in general, more difficult for smallholders to practice especially in terms of record keeping, and the government budget and personnel are also required to support and promote this system especially for small farmers in developing countries. To alleviate the situation, the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) which was first introduced by IFOAM is adopted to be an alternative system to the third party certification system to accelerate the expansion of organic agriculture worldwide.  In this paper, the PGS organic program which is jointly carried out by the Thai Organic Agriculture Foundation (TOAF) which is a non-governmental organization (NGO) and the government agencies, is presented to demonstrate its achievements in supplementing the promotion of organic agriculture in Thailand.            

ORGANIC AGRICULTURE POLICY AND THE SITUATION IN THAILAND

National Organics Agriculture Development Plan (2017-2021)

Organic agriculture was declared as the national agenda by the Thai government many years ago and still remains as an important policy of all governments. The National Organic Agriculture Development Plan (2017-2021) was also developed to provide the guidance for organic agriculture promotion in the country. This development plan envisions Thailand to be the leader in the region in terms of production, consumption, trade and services in organic agriculture at the international level. There are four strategic themes as follows: (1) Promote research, knowledge dissemination and innovation in organic agriculture; (2) Develop organic agricultural production and services; (3) Develop markets and services as well as certification system for organic agricultural products; and (4) Drive organic agriculture extensively (National Committee on Organic Agriculture Development, 2017). In this plan the PGS organic agriculture is also promoted along with other systems under strategic theme 3.

Organic agriculture situation in Thailand

In spite of the government efforts to promote organic agriculture extensively especially on organic rice, the organic producers and organic areas are still very small compared with conventional farming. The number of organic farmers and organic areas between 2017 and 2019 is shown in Table 1. In this table it is shown that both organic areas and organic farmers have been increasing every year. In 2019, there were 44,418 organic farmers and 119 organic farmers’ groups with the total organic area of 85,059 hectares. However, in 2018 there were 6.97 million farmers with total agricultural land area 23.87 million hectares (Agricultural Statistics of Thailand, 2019). Therefore, the percentage of farmers which practiced organic agriculture in 2018 was only about 0.004 and the percentage of farmlands devoted to organic agriculture was only about 0.002. (The data on agricultural land used in 2019 is not yet available). The reduction in area and the number of groups of private sector from 2018 to 2019 is due to the incomplete report obtained from the private sector. The figures in this table include all certified farmers from both third party (CB) system and PGS organic.

Table 1 Number of Organic Agriculture Farmers and Areas in Thailand, 2017-2019

Supporting Organization

2017

2018

2019

% Area Change

2018-2019

Farmers

Area (ha.)

Farmers

Area (ha.)

Farmers

Area (ha.)

Public

8,001

13,246.67

13,221

22,376.61

41,512

54,889.91

145.30

Private

2,753

+142 Gr.

23,704.75

2,753

+408 Gr.

34,812.39

2,906.

+119 Gr.

30,169.40

-13.34

Total

10,754

+142 Gr.

36,951.42

 

15,974

+408 Gr.

57,189.00

 

44,418.

+119 Gr.

85,059.31

 

48.73

 

Source: Land Development Department, 2019, as of 30 July 2019 (available from Draft Organic Agriculture Action Plan 2017-2022), Office of Agricultural Economics, 2020.

Note: Public numbers represent organic farming supported by public sector e.g. training, inspection fee.

ORGANIC PRINCIPLES AND KEY FEATURES OF PGS

The following definitions and key features of PGS are summarized from “Why Invest in Participatory Guarantee System?” (FAO and IFOAM, 2019).

Organic agriculture principles

Organic agriculture is a holistic production management system which promotes and enhances agro-ecosystems, health, including biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It emphasizes the use of management practices in preference to the use of off-farm inputs, taking into account that regional conditions require locally adapted system. (FAO and WHO, 1999)  

Organic verification systems

Organic verification systems that verify the organic production practices and quality of products are not only useful to guide producers but also to protect consumers against misleading claims, and to protect organic producers against unfair competition. These systems may be imposed by legislation, which is the case in countries that regulate the use of the term organic, or may be voluntary. Organic verification systems consist of the following components:

Organic standard

This defines the norms and requirements for production, handling and processing that organic farmers, processors and traders must comply with.

Verification system

This may be provided by producers themselves (first-party certification), by traders and shops buying from farmers or farmer (second-party groups certification) or by an external (third-party private actor certification).

Consumer-facing label  

This is usually in the form of a logo put in products that have been successfully certified as organic.

Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS)

PGS are defined as "locally focused quality assurance systems [or organic 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" (IFOAM – Organics International, n.d.a). The development of this definition, adopted by IFOAM - Organics International in 2008, and conceptual framework was based on common features of existing alternative organic accreditation systems. PGS represent a tool that can help in the transition of farming process towards sustainable agriculture, empowering farmers and enhancing communities, local smallholder farmers' access to markets and making organic food available and accessible (FAO and IFOAM – Organics International, 2018). PGS share common features with other organic. Certification systems, such as a specific organic standard and use of logos to communicate and show the guarantee process to consumers. The differences largely relate to the verification system per se.

Third-party certification is the most common verification system used in the organic sector worldwide. It relies on a process of inspection and verification of compliance with an organic standard, conducted by an independent body. This is most often a company specialized in certification but may also be a government body. 'Independent,' in this case, means that the certification body is legally independent from both the producer and the consumer or buyer of the certified product. Most often, the producer is the one receiving and paying for the certification services, although in some instances these costs may be subsidized by the government or covered by the buyer. In third-party certification, the interaction between the farmer and the verification system is mostly limited to an annual farm inspection by a trained independent inspector, who is not allowed to give technical advice to the farmer.

PGS are based on broad stakeholder participation. This means that farmers, consumers, SMEs, rural advisers, local authorities and any other relevant stakeholders come together to make joint decisions, visit farms, support each other and decide which farmers can be awarded the PGS organic certificate. PGS is a self-certification system but with the involvement or supervision of the government agencies or NGOs, rather than a third-party accreditation system normally adopted by countries for the certification of organic products.  The involvement of these stakeholders in the process of set-up, implementation and day-to-day operation is important to ensure effectiveness and credibility. In PGS, farmers are co-owners of the guarantee system and are therefore involved in the design and verification process: the peer-review. PGS offers a complementary, low-cost, locally-based system of quality assurance, with a heavy emphasis on social control and knowledge building. Through the peer-review process, farmers exchange information and experiences that allow them to overcome production challenges and enable them to follow and comply with the standards.  For the Thai Organic Agriculture Foundation (TOAF)-PGS program, the final approval regarding which farmers can be awarded the TOAF-PGS certificate is based on the consensus of each PGS group committee consisting of group members and other stakeholders including customers while the issuing of the certificate is under the responsibility of the TOAF. However, other PGS groups besides the groups under supervision of the TOAF, the procedure may be different depends on the rules and regulations of each group. In this sense, a PGS, in addition to being a tool to guarantee the quality of the products, is a capacity- building tool. It is also an empowerment tool, as the direct relationship among members of the PGS builds ownership of the guarantee system and encourages a constant flux of information and responsibility among them (FAO, 2018a). It is often easier for smallholder farmers transitioning to organic agriculture to supply and access local markets rather than export markets. PGS represent an alternative to third-party certification that is suitable to local markets and short supply chains (IFOAM – Organics International).

Organic regulation can be a limiting factor for PGS development. There are countries where organic claims are only possible via third-party certification. In these cases, it is illegal to use 'organic' in the logo or packaging of PGS-certified products. Lack of awareness and multiple claims in the market can also be a limit. Consumers tend to be confused when confronted with multiple logos from different initiatives, which can generate distrust in organic products.

Key features of Participatory Guarantee Systems

1. Principles and values that enhance livelihoods: PGS are characterized by clearly defined principles and values that are aimed at improving the well-being of farming families, ensuring fair relations with consumers and promoting organic agriculture.

2. Suitable to smallholder agriculture: the participatory nature and horizontal structure of PGS allow for more-appropriate and less-costly mechanisms of certification for smallholder farmers, and actually highlight, celebrate and encourage consumers to seek out smallholders.

3. Norms conceived by the stakeholders: the organic standard (Thailand organic or international standards i.e. IFOA, Codex or equivalent standards) that the PGS will be based upon is chosen through a participatory process, always in accordance with the commonly understood sense of what constitutes an organic product.

4. Grass roots organization: participatory certification is a result of a social dynamic, based on an active organization of all stakeholders.

5. A farmer's pledge: through a documented process, each farmer makes a commitment to follow the agreed organic standard and to implement the PGS processes.

6. Clear and previously defined consequences: from the outset, farmers are aware of and agree on the consequences of not complying with the agreed-upon standard and procedures. Actions to be taken in such cases must be transparent and consistent.

7. Documented management systems and procedures: there may be minimal paperwork required of farmers but there will be ways in which they are expected to demonstrate their organic commitment and integrity, which should be documented by the PGS.

8. Mechanisms to verify farmers' compliance with the established norms: in PGS, such mechanisms must be able to stimulate participation and to allow a learning process for all stakeholders.

9. Mechanisms for supporting farmers: these include learning opportunities on how to solve technical challenges of organic farming, facilitation of market access and even parallel social processes, such as collective seed management, collective work or small-scale savings systems.

10. Seals or labels: seals or logos on a product label enable consumers to quickly recognize which products have been guaranteed through the PGS.

TOAF-PGS ORGANIC AGRICULTURE PILOT PROJECT

The TOAF-PGS organic agriculture pilot project was implemented under the Letter of Agreement (LOA: TA8163-REG) between Thailand's Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MOAC) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) (Land Development Department, 2016). The Land Development Department (LDD) was designated as implementing and coordinating body of the project. It was jointly carried out by the LDD and the TOAF between June 2015 and December 2016.

Target groups

Five organic agriculture groups from various geographical locations, production systems, social and cultural context, with at least 50 households per group, have been selected as pilot sites. They are:

1. Tub Thai Organic Cooperatives, Surin Province (156 households)

2. Sookjai Organic group, Nakhon Pathom Province (131 households)

3. Chiang Mai Organic Cooperatives limited, Chiang Mai Province (109 households)

4. Mae Mok Herb Cooperatives, Lampang province (37 households)

5. Phetchabun Organic Agriculture group, Phetchabun province (33 households)

Training

The main activities of the project are organizing the training courses for farmers and government officials who act as the coordinators and assisting the farmers in market access. The training courses provided are as follows:

1. Training of master trainers and coordinators were held in four provinces (combining two nearby provinces into one training) with target to select 10 PGS group leaders and two LDD officers in each pilot group, total of 60. With high interest in PGS from government sectors and local educational institutes, LDD has allocated additional fund for PGS training to its soil doctor and (local volunteer farmer) organic farming advocate programs. Altogether, a total number of PGS trained farmers/officials was 400 (male 249 and female 151, or 62/38%).

2. PGS peer review process trainings were held twice with total number of 121 trainees, comprising 60 males and 61 females. During the PGS groups establishing process, technical implementation team paid regular visits, closely monitoring the progress, providing further assistance to ensure farmers' confidence in pursuing PGS certification.

Roles of TOAF

TOAF is a non-governmental organization which aims  to promote organic farming and marketing in Thailand. The board members of TOAF comprise of retired officials, young professional and members of the private sectors. The operating fund comes from public donations and has no direct financial support from the government. The roles of the TOAF in this project are:

1. To prepare training materials, forms and related documents

2. To provide training on PGS principles and procedures for master trainers, coordinators and PGS peer review process for farmers

3. To issue the PGS certificate to farmers and farmers’ group and PGS-TOAF logo as shown in Figure 2.

Outputs and achievements

1. At the end of the pilot project in five provinces there were 456 households (exceeding the original target of 250 households) who participated, covering a total area of 60 hectares, of which 152 members have been PGS certified and more are expected (as they are in the transition period). Women constitute 56.3% of PGS members working in the field, and over 50% members carried out or participated in the implementation of PGS activities for the group.

2. In addition to providing technical assistance, the PGS implementation team throughout the course of the project facilitated market access and linkage for smallholders to local and national agriculture trade fairs such as the Organic and Natural Expo, Sookjai market festival, the National Herb Expo, among many others. The PGS implementation team has also engaged the private sector to recognize the reliability of PGS as a tool for sourcing organic certified products. An MOU has been signed on 22 November 2016 between Central Food Retail Company Limited (Tops Supermarket), one of the largest hypermarkets in the country and TOAF. The MOU paved way for local organic farmers certified under TOAF PGS system to access nationwide modern trade outlets of Central Food Retail. Moreover, PGS also helped farmers gain access to collective markets and benefited from institutional procurement. The fact that PGS process requires group building, it helps members to plan, produce and sell their products collectively.

3. Women's presence in all five PGS groups is very eminent. This is largely due to women's nature in being adept in marketing, documentation and detailed work. Each activity carried out under the project saw more than 50% of women's participation.

4. Since PGS process requires regular meeting among members and peer review as part of the farm inspection procedures, it resulted in a stronger sense of community and facilitated networking within and outside the group. PGS members exchanged knowledge, information, production resources and even traded products, using smart phone and social media platforms.

5. The PGS project has produced 2,500 sets of PGS guidelines for training and reference in group forming process; DVDs on three subjects namely PGS process, integrated crop and cattle farming, and organic agriculture market; several roll-up, standy, produced and used in various marketing events. Land Development Department utilizes and disseminates these knowledge media in the training of its volunteer soil doctors.

6. A website http://pgs-organic.org has been created as an official platform for information and knowledge sharing on PGS as well as online registration for interested farmers and database on PGS registered groups. A Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pgsorganic/ has also been created.

7. PGS has been indicated and included, for the first time, as one of the development tool in the 12th National Economic and Social Development Plan (2017-2021). National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards (ACFS), as the main government body responsible for agriculture quality assurance and certification along with other government agencies, acknowledged that PGS which follow IFOAM principles could be promoted as an alternative quality assurance system for small- scale farmers in Thailand ACFS is in the process of drafting a regulation on organic labelling and recognize PGs as an acceptable certification system. A draft regulation to provide a basis for this recognition is now going through a public hearing process.

8. LDD, as the key implementing body, recommended that the government should continue support and monitor the existing PGS group to ensure its correct procedural operation and stimulate further participation of the farmers. The capacity building for local officials who play as group coordinators was also suggested for efficiency and effectiveness in promotion of PGS organic.

Impacts of the PGS pilot project

The survey results of 115 members from five PGS groups showed positive impacts corresponding to sustainability development goals, as follows:

Impacts

Details

% of change

Production cost

No pesticide and chemical fertilizer use, hence cost reduced

Average decrease

of 50-90%

Premium Price

In many cases, PGS organic certified products can fetch a higher price. For example water melon can be sold at 20 baht per kg. (US$ 1.2) up from previous 2 baht (US$ 0.30), rice 14,000 baht/ton (US$ 424) from 8,000 baht (US$ 242)

Average increase

of 10-100%

Farmer's income

With cost reduction, premium price gain, collective marketing and institutional buying, farmers earn more income

Average increase of 10-50%

Safe food security in the

community

PGS farmers who are mostly smallholders sell their products in local green markets, providing quality assurance safe food for the community.

100% increase

Farmers' response to PGS

Responses to PGS across all pilot groups are highly encouraging. All expressed interest to upscale and out-scale of PGS. In Tub Thai cooperatives, PGS has expanded from initial 4 villages to 11 villages covering two districts and 156 households.

100% increase

Consumers' acceptance of PGS

PGS is still a new and unknown concept among the public, and more educational and awareness campaign is needed. PGS pilot farmers reported that they have gained new loyal customers and increased demand of products from consumers.

100% increase

Women's empowerment

PGS enhances gender equity and empower women to take on leadership roles. Women constitute more than 50% of PGS members and more than 50% of peer review inspectors. While currently two out of five pilot groups have women as group leaders.

N/A

Other indicators

Improved quality of life, human rights, community unity (including reduction in crime rates), women empowerment, sense of democracy, self-reliance and resilience from external shocks, social capital etc.

Overall increase

by 100%

Current situations

After completion of the pilot project under LOA between MOAC and ADB, TOAF is still continued to promote PGS with financial support from various departments of MOAC such as Land Development Department, Agricultural Land Reform Office, The Queen Sirikit Department of Sericulture and provincial administrations in all regions of the countries. The outputs of the activities are shown in Table 2. Besides TOAF, there are also other private organizations that are presently implementing PGS organic programs in the country.

Table 2 Number of Farmers and Farmers’ Groups who Participated in PGS Organic Programs under the supervision of the Thai Organic Agriculture Foundation (TOAF)

Region/Province

Number of Farmers’ Group

Number of Farmers

Total

Farmers

Certified

Transition

On-going

North

 

 

 

 

 

1. Chiengrai

8

25

63

-

88

2. Chiengmai

15

32

66

-

98

3.Lampang

4

62

27

100

189

4. Lamphun

6

12

2

-

14

5. Phetchabun

1

25

-

100

125

6. Kamphang Phet

1

5

-

-

5

7. Nakhon Sawan

1

14

-

-

14

Sub total

36

175

158

200

533

Northeast

 

 

 

 

 

1. Ubon Ratchathani

281

9

12

8,400

8,421

2. Surin

23

146

74

-

220

3. Srisaket

220

-

-

6,600

6,600

4. Amnart Chareon

60

-

-

1,800

1,800

5. Yasothon

162

46

-

250

296

6. Nakhon Ratchasima

3

30

-

-

30

7. Sakon Nakhon

3

8

-

23

31

Sub total

752

239

86

16,848

17,173

Central

 

 

 

 

 

1. Nakhon Pathom

1

7

-

7

14

2. Sa Kaeo

1

15

-

-

15

Sub total

2

22

-

7

29

South

 

 

 

 

 

1. Surat Thani

1

6

-

10

16

2. Nakhon Si Thamrat

2

13

-

-

13

3. Songkhla

2

8

-

-

8

Sub total

5

27

-

10

37

Grand Total

795

463

244

17,065

17,772

Source: Thai Organic Agriculture Foundation (TOAF), as of 10 March 2020

Organic agriculture is a farming practice which is currently increasing very rapidly globally due to the increase in demand for safe, healthy and environmentally friendly foods. However, the share of organic farming is still very low compared with that of conventional farming. The major constraints were the farmers’ perception which many of them felt that the yield received from organic farming is lower than that of the conventional farming and the current third party certification system which is quite complicated for smallholders especially in terms of record keeping. Therefore, the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) was introduced by IFOAM in order to alleviate this problem.Source: Thai Organic Agriculture Foundation (TOAF), as of 10 March 2020

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

In 2015-2016, the PGS organic programs were carried out jointly in Thailand between Land Development Department and the Thai Organic Agriculture Foundation (TOAF) as a pilot project with the financial support from the Asian Development Bank (ADB). It was found that this pilot project was implemented successfully as required in the agreement. After the completion of the pilot project, TOAF still carries out the PGS programs with financial support from various departments of MOAC and provincial administrations in all regions of the country.

This project which is adopted by PGS for organic certification and jointly implemented between government agencies and non-governmental organization (NGO) can be used as a model for accelerating the expansion of organic farming especially for smallholders in developing countries. If this type of cooperation is continued the organic agriculture farming could increase more rapidly. 

REFERENCES

FiBL Statistics. 2020. Data on Organic Area Worldwide. Available from https://statistics.fibl.org/world/area-world.html?tx_statisticdata_pi1%5Bcontroller%5D=Element2Item&cHash=f367262839ab9ca2e7ac1f333fbb1ca2  [Accessed 15 Aprilh 2020]

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and IFOAM Organic International. 2019. Why Invest in Participatory Guarantee System? Opportunities for Organic Agriculture and PGS for Sustainable Food System. Rome, Italy.

National Committee on Organic Agriculture Development. 2017. National Organic Agriculture Strategies (2017-2021). Bangkok. Thailand (in Thai)

Office of Agricultural Economics.2019. Agricultural Statistics of Thailand 2019. Bangkok, Thailand

Office of Agricultural Economics.2020. Organic Agriculture Action Plan 2017-2022 (Draft). Bangkok, Thailand

Land Development Department. 2016. Completion Report TA8163REG: Implementing Greater Mekong Subregion Core Agriculture Support Programe, PhaseII (CASP2). Project Implementation Unit (PIU). Land Development Department, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives Bangkok. Thailand. (in Thai)

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