PGS – India ;Certification opportunity for small holder  farmer groups

Manjusha.R.S, Agricultural Officer ,Krishibhavan, Kannambra, Palakkad

Certification is the process of assuring    the organic integrity of farm produce. It helps producers to get better prices and  prime markets while the consumers get an assurance  about the  quality of products they purchase by giving premium price. Broadly certification is of 2 types. 1) Third Party Certification by accredited agencies which is essential  for export and world trade and  2) Participatory Guarantees System  (PGS) involving  active participation of producers and other stake holders; aimed at domestic and local markets.

Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) is a quality assurance system , that is locally relevant, based on active participation of stake holders, including producers and consumers and are build on foundations of trust, social network and knowledge exchange.

In PGS, verification is done by peer group farmers and certificates given by Regional Councils; unlike in Third Party Certification, where verification and certification are done by independent external agencies. This system relies on the farmer’s personal integrity to comply with PGS standards. Peer farmer pressure  act as the main control tool  against deviation. Here the farmer pledges both in words and in writing that the production process is free from manufactured chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, hormones, genetically modified organism etc.) and lives by his word of honor.

In India, the PGS Organic India Council was registered  by the  informal coalition    of voluntary organizations in April 2011 at Goa as a society. Later in 2015 ,the PGS movement was officially recognized by the Govt. of India as Participatory Guarantee System for India(PGS-India), which attained an institutional structure  and National recognition. The official website pgsindia-ncof.gov.in provides facility for beneficiary registration and detailed guidelines through Operational manuals. The PGS certificate holders can use the PGS logos to market their products. This gains relevance when we consider the report of ASSOCHAM and Earnest &Young that the organic product market in India have been growing at a CAGR of 25% and is expected to touch 12000 crore in 2020.

The guiding principles of PGS India are Participation, Shared vision, Transparency, Trust, Horizontality and National networking. It is implemented by the Dept. of Agriculture and Co-operation, Ministry of Agriculture, Govt. of India through National Centre  of  Organic Farming (NCOF), Ghaziabad and its six Regional centres( RCOF)

Operational Structure of PGS-India

Local Groups or LG’s (Farmers group)

Regional  councils (RC’s)

Zonal councils (RCOF)

National Centre for organic  Farming (NCOF)

(PGS – India Secretariat)

National Advisory Committee (NAC)

NAC is the apex policy making  body for PGS India Programme. The six regional centres of NCOF acts as the Zonal  councils. The regional council (RC) can be State agencies, NGOS, Local groups or any other agencies which are approved by the zonal councils. There are 20 active RC’s currently in Kerala as per the PGS website. Fourteen of them being the offices of PAO of each district. RCs issue certification UID number to each approved LG’s, print and distribute annual Organic certificates for individual farmers , do residual analysis and soil testing of samples through NABL labs etc.

Local Groups (LG)

It is the group formed by like minded farmers living in same or close by villages and is the  main functional and decision making body under PGS. It can be an existing group like padasekharasamithi, vegetable cluster, coconut cluster, pepper cluster etc or a new group. The requirements are:

  • Minimum 5 members. Maximum number can be decided by RC.
  • One single member should not hold more than one third of the total land under the group, minimum area not prescribed.
  • All members should sign the PGS pledge and agreement
  • All members need to bring their entire farm with livestock under organic management as per PGS standards at least within 24 months of joining the group for getting the “PGS- India Organic” certificate
  • Parallels production (ie cultivating one plot in organic and other in conventional farming) and part conversion not allowed.
  • There should be at least 6 meetings and every member need to attend at least 50% of the meetings in an year.
  • The LG prepares operational manual in local language detailing the  documents to be maintained by farmers.
  • Also verifies the organic status of off- farm inputs used by members.

Role and Responsibility of Group

  • The farmers organize meetings. Elect group leader and core team of peer reviewers (minimum 3).
  • Register the name of the group and other details in PGS website online( pgsindia-ncof.gov.in) and obtain registration approval from the nearest RC.
  • Organize regular trainings and meetings and keep registers and documents.Chalk out peer appraisal strategy and ensure timely appraisal of each farm at least  twice a year. Peer reviewers after appraisal , fill up the appraisal forms, sign and submit to  group leader.
  • Organize final decision meeting for reviewing appraisal report. Separate out farmers  who are not complying and impose sanction.For large groups,  elect sub group or certification committee with 5 or more member for review  of appraisal.
  • At appropriate time, prepare summary sheet with list of farmers declared certified with details of  crops and expected quantity of produce and submit to RC.
  • On getting approval from RC, the certificates can be printed directly from website and distributed to individual

All issued certificates bear unique identification code (UID  code) for traceability and access to the entire informations about the group. The validity of the  certificate shall be  12 months from the date of decision of the group. A new certificate will be received   again   on submission of summary sheet by LG.

Grant of Logo

After  getting certificate the LG farmer can use PGS logo in packets of their certified farm products along with  UID code. Two separate logos shall be granted .“PGS  Green”for those under conversion and  PGS- Organic” for  fully converted farm. Only the farmers who have completed  full conversion period ,without any major or serious  noncompliance are to be  included in the list of declared “PGS- Organic” Farmers who have one or more major noncompliance and are under conversion period will be declared “PGS  Green”. Only the crops sown after joining the group will be considered for “PGS-Green

PGS National Standards for Organic Production

General requirements

  • Habitat Management -by fixing plants, companion crops ,diversified plants/trees on bunds and non cultivated area-is the first steps towards organic conversion. Rain water harvesting can also be included.
  • Diversiy in crop production by mixed cropping, intercropping, relay cropping, crop rotation, trap crops barrier crops etc. is the second most important step.
  • Integration of Animals/Livestock to ensure continuous supply  of dung and urine is essential  for organic farming.
  • Conversion Period : It is the time required by the conventional farm (crop and animal  husbandry) to attain  full PGS organic status. It shall not be  less than 24 months for seasonal and annual crops and 36 months in case of perennial crops from the date of taking pledge. It is 12 months for animal products.
  • Contamination control : All organic farms shall be either protected with biological fence like hedges / hedge rows or maintain a buffer zone. This is to prevent accidental contamination with prohibited  substances through drift or water flow from conventional cultivation.

Standard requirements in crop production

Planting  materials of those varieties are to be selected which are suitable for the soil and climate and which can be managed organically. The use of genetically engineered or transgenic seeds/planting materials is prohibited.

Use of synthetic fertilizers herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, growth  promoters ,dyes and genetically engineered materials are prohibited.   On farm biodegradable materials of plant, animal or microbial origin should be the basis of fertilization. If the  above are off farm ,LG should ensure that no prohibited  substances have been used. If such products are approved by NPOP, they can be  used. Mineral fertilizers in their natural powdered form can be used as supplementary source.            Cultural methods and plant health management along with resistant verities  should form the  basis of pest, and weed management. On farm fermentation  products and botanical extracts, biopesticides and off  farm organic inputs under NPOP can also be used .

All equipments/ implements must be washed and cleaned before use in farm. Similarly the bags and containers used  to harvest, store and transport organic  produce must be free from any chemical contamination. Natural and  traditional means of storage and use of inert gases like nitrogen and carbon dioxide  in storage are permissible.

There are Standard requirements for animal production and bee beeping mentioned in PGS-India operational  manual available at PGS website . Livestock should be  fed only with 100% organically grown feed. Farm  animal    byproducts, urea, pure amino acids  producs from GMO etc are prohibited in feed. Rearing environment must have sufficient access to  fresh air, day light, water and should ensure free movement, rest and protection. The use of conventional veterinary medicine  is allowed when no other justifiable alternatives are available.         Standard requirements for food processing, handling and storage are also  described  in the manual.

Advantages and Limitations

The procedures are simple and cost is lower than in Third Party Certification. The small holders and illiterate  farmers of rural India can also benefit from it. Surveillance  by the group members ensures more credibility and effectiveness  to the system. In PGS system, noncompliance by one farmer would influence the certification  status of the group as a whole. Hence the power of local social  control is far  greater than third  party inspectors who are outsides and visit only a few hours in a given year. Random Residue Testing  at regular  intervals  ensures the integrity  and increases trust. PGS offer every farmer with individual certificate and e each farmer is free to market its own produce independent  of group. Consumers & buyers can also involve in production and verification process without the need of middle man.

The main limitation is the non acceptance of  PGS certification for export by most countries. Also, it is applicable only for farmers who can organize and perform as a group within or close by villages ,as minimum  5 members are  needed in a group  . Off farm activities  are not covered.

PGS certification  through PKVY

In “Paramparagat  Krishi Vikas Yojana” (PKVY) Organic farming is promoted through cluster approach of farmers and PGS certification. Krishibhavans act as the  facilitation centres ,where the scheme is  implemented  through the  Department of Agri and FW. The scheme supports local groups financially for organizing  group meetings, trainings,soil testing, preparation of organic inputs, office expenditure, certification etc. The assistance is provided for 3 years to farmers in a cluster with 50 acre of  land under cultivation.

“Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not”. Oprah Winfrey 

 

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