Participatory evaluation and certification systems

Participatory evaluation and certification systems aim at directly involving the people who produce and/or consume food products into their assessment and certification processes, rather than using third party certification.


Aim and innovation

The classical objective of organic certification is, on the one hand, increased transparency and assurance on the consumer side regarding sustainable nutrition as well as responsible production and, on the other hand, improved market access for producers. The cost-intensive conversion, approval and inspections often represent a hurdle for small-scale farmers.[1] The investment for an organic label is often only worthwhile at a certain production volume.

Participatory evaluation systems aim to achieve a high degree of transparency through active participation by producers, consumers and other direct interest groups, and thus represent an alternative and supplement to certification by third parties. They are targeting local markets, short transport routes and value chains. Small-scale producers get together to jointly define and develop indicators of sustainability. On the basis of these criteria, they carry out agricultural activities, and according to the criteria evaluate and, if necessary, improve their own work instead of having to meet the criteria set by the various external organic certifiers.[2] A further new approach is that the quality control is also not carried out by third parties. Instead, producers check and support each other[3]. This on-site visit by one or more people from the peer group or by a consumer has the advantage that a direct practical exchange of knowledge about problems and solutions is maintained and a social network based on trust can be established.[4] Together they take decisions concerning certification and ensure the development and implementation of the overall certification procedure.

In addition, new initiatives, not only on the producer side but also on the consumer side, organize to jointly formulate criteria for sustainable products and marketing, which meet their own demands for sustainable action.[5] Thereafter as a result of this joint coordination, these are produced by affiliated farms at fair producer prices.[6]


FADEAR - France[8], C'est qui le patron - France, Nature & Progrès - France, Belgium[9], IFOAM-Participatory Guarantee Systems - Romania, France, United Kingdom, Turkey, Spain, Italy[10], InPACT Network



production, trade, consumption



small-scale farmers, consumers


State of development

There is a growing trend towards participatory evaluation and certification systems as an alternative to traditional certification with quality control by third parties. While the range of organic labels is increasing, this also increases the pressure on organic small-scale farmers to opt for a certification in order to ensure sales. These certifications, however, are often associated with high costs and do not allow farmers to have a say in determining the sustainability criteria themselves. As a result, the demand for participatory, more cost-effective alternatives for small-scale agriculture continues to grow. However, the EU, USA and Japan do not recognize PGS as certification. Only farms that have been tested by third parties may refer to the 'organic' product labels. In countries of the Global South, such as Brazil and India, PGS is even (legally) considered equivalent to third-party certification on local markets.


Sustainability potential


  • biodiversity (indirect)
  • soil (indirect)
  • water (indirect)
  • climate (indirect)
  • air (indirect)
  • resource efficiency in production and consumption (indirect)
  • promotion of regional, closed nutrient cycles (indirect)


  • poverty reduction (indirect)
  • strengthening of regional economic cycles
  • support of activities with positive external effects


  • fair producer prices (on national and global level)
  • creation of transparency along the value chain
  • participation, social justice
  • awareness / education for sustainable nutrition
  • animal welfare (indirect)

Risks / disadvantages

Participatory evaluation systems depend on a lot of idealism, individual initiative and commitment of all participants. Moreover, participatory evaluation systems are susceptible to abuse. People who are only concerned about their own financial advantage could take profit from the trust in their labels and certificates and this way in the long run damage the reputation of certificates based on participatory evaluation systems. On the other hand, consumers, who do not participate, need a high degree of information (or trust) in order to develop an awareness of the sustainability criteria behind the respective certificates.


[1] Wageningen University & Research (2015): Certification for small-scale producers—Weighing up the pros and cons.  https://www.wur.nl/en/newsarticle/Certification-for-smallscale-producers-weighing-up-the-pros-and-cons.htm (20.02.2020)

[2] FADEAR (n.d.): Réseau de l’agriculture paysanne.—Bienvenue dans l’agriculture paysanne.  http://www.agriculturepaysanne.org/ (20.02.2020)

[3] An example here are the Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS).

[4] IFOAM (n.d.): Participatory Guarantee Systems. IFOAM Organics International. https://www.ifoam.bio/en/organic-policy-guarantee/participatory-guarantee-systems-pgs (20.02.2020)

[5] La société des consommateurs (n.d.): « C’est qui le Patron ?! » – La Marque du Consommateur.  https://lamarqueduconsommateur.com/ (20.02.2020)

[6] ibid.

[7] Nature & Progrès (n.d.): L’histoire de Nature & Progrès. https://www.natureetprogres.org/lhistoire-2-2/ (20.02.2020)

[8] FADEAR – Réseau de l’Agriculture Paysanne (2012): Bienvenue dans l’agriculture paysanne a. http://www.agriculturepaysanne.org/ (20.02.2020)

[9] Nature & Progrès. (n.d.): La bio associative et solidaire—Nature et Progrès. https://www.natureetprogres.org/ (20.02.2020)

[10] IFOAM - Organics International e.V. (n.d.): Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS). IFOAM. https://www.ifoam.bio/en/organic-policy-guarantee/participatory-guarantee-systems-pgs (20.02.2020)