We are Mr. Sengsavang Luangphachaleun & Mrs. Sinsanga Keo Vong Kot organic farmers from Laos. We live with our 19-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter on a farm in Savannakhet. We rent about one hectare of land from the government, where we grow a variety of vegetables and rice, and also keep ducks and chickens. We eat a lot of what we grow ourselves and sell the surplus at a local market.
In 2012, the government started promoting organic agriculture. I had also heard about it from my brother who lives in Canada. He told me how popular organic food was becoming and that it is better for our health. So, we decided to join a government-run organic farming project.
In the past, we used some chemicals, but not too many. Part of the project involved travelling to Thailand to learn new faming skills but we also learn from local experts. More recently my son helped me by searching online for new solutions to problems like pest control. Now we much have fewer problems than we did in the past.
In addition to helping with training, the Government also initiated a Participatory Guarantee System (PGS). PGS are locally focused quality assurance systems. They certify producers based on active participation of stakeholders and are built on a foundation of trust, social networks and knowledge exchange.
In our PGS, some members have built a new house and can afford for their children to attend school regularly. We have bought a truck to deliver vegetables to the market where we get a fair and stable price for our products.
There are many advantages to being part of a PGS. Here are some:
- PGS can be adapted to local conditions (e.g. processes can be defined to fit cultural habits and the capabilities of the producers) and involve ongoing farmer-to-farmer exchange.
- Low-cost certification with much less bureaucracy compared to third- party alternatives. This gives farmers access to organic markets they could otherwise not sell their produce at.
- A credible guarantee that the food they are buying has been grown organically. As there are no high third-party certification costs, the price remains affordable for the consumer and fair for the farmer.
- The chance to become more involved in the food-growing process e.g. by visiting farms and participating in the peer review process to make sure the farmer is complying with organic standards.
- Buyers can participate in PGS processes e.g. farm reviews, discussions about standards so that they know who grows the food they sell and they can also assure their customers of its organic origin.
- Attract more customers to their markets as interest in organic rises.
- At the start, many were skeptical of organic farming but now we have shown how successful it can be. We hope that the next generation of farmers will farm organically. For us, this is the future of agriculture.
This story is based on the result achieved through a FAO pilot project Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP/RAS/3510) “Small-Scale Farmer Inclusion in Organic Agriculture Development through Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS)” and the joint collaboration with IFOAM, Asian Development Bank (ADB), Earth Net Foundation (ENF) and grass roots organizations.