The Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) is a mode of certification that seeks to provide a different approach to the conventional system of third-party certification for organic products. Operating in India since 2006, PGS works through social control and the producer’s personal pledge. Modern organic farming techniques are often very different from traditional farming practices and PGS allows producer groups to jointly certify their products as organic using a system of standards that have been developed to accommodate their own local needs. This is built on a foundation of trust, social networks and knowledge exchange.
In the usual systems of certification, an external auditor (a ‘third party’ separate from both the certifying body and the producer) visits the field armed with a checklist of criteria formulated in some distant office and then proceeds to audit the producer based on it. If the producer strays even slightly from the regulations, certification is denied. Most means of production are region specific, and thus have some aspects that fall out the rigid brackets of the regulations. However, the external inspector is unfamiliar with the local context and thus cannot accommodate these. Additionally, the expense involved in the process hinders the farmer from even applying for certification.
Realizing that a third party system does not work for many of the tribal producers, due to the lack of correlation between fee and produce, the PGS was established as an alternative certification. Under PGS, every instance of certification is unique and embedded in the local context and in the Nilgiris Keystone works as a facilitating agent. The PGS has since been copied by the government, adding to the legitimization of the certification.