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Maria Rowena A. Buena

Regional Coordinator, Masipag

The Senate in the Philippines has approved a bill recognizing Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS), amending the current legal framework for organic agriculture in the country.

Participatory Guarantee Systems (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.

The lower house will also pass their version of the amendment and it will then be ready for signing by the President. After this, the Implementing Rules and Regulations will be developed.

As an alternative and complementary tool to third-party certification, PGS plays a vital role in rural development and farmer empowerment through active engagement of farmers in the whole process of verification, decision making, and marketing.

With its recognition by law, organic farmers will be able to get training and certification for their produce, without incurring heavy costs. This is certainly going to have a positive impact on biodiversity and the livelihoods of organic farmers in the Philippines.

PGS presentation during the Senate hearing © Masipag

The roots of PGS development in the Philippines

PGS started in the Philippines when Masipag launched the Masipag Farmers Guarantee System (MFGS). This happened shortly after the organizations’ participation in the Alternative Certification Workshop organized by IFOAM – Organics International, in Brazil in 2004. Since then, Masipag has been involved in the development of PGS, mostly for its members and partner organizations all over the country.

In 2010, the Republic Act 10068 or the Organic Agriculture Law was enacted. The law supports the growing organic agriculture movement in the country. However, Section 17 of the law only allows third party certification to be labelled as “organic”. For Masipag, this is a disservice to small scale organic farmers in the country who cannot afford to pay third party certification costs.

We have been organic farmers long before this law. With its enactment, we suddenly cannot call our products organic. Otherwise, we will be called outlaws if we do.

A farmer from Negros Occidental province

The lobby for PGS recognition

Seeing such an unfair situation for the farmers, Masipag started advocating for PGS recognition in 2011. They did so by conducting a conference with the stakeholders to discuss how to strengthen the mass base that would support the amendment of the law.

It was at this conference that the establishment of a network that would spearhead lobbying and PGS development efforts was agreed upon by the participants in unison, thus, PGS Pilipinas was born.

Peer review visit, Albay Province © Masipag

Since then, PGS trainings were conducted in various provinces, municipalities and partner organizations in the country. In 2013, a position paper from PGS Pilipinas was handed by the then IFOAM – Organics International President, Mr. Andre Leu to the National Organic Agriculture Board (NOAB), calling for their swift action to amend the law to recognize PGS.[1]

As a response, the Department of Agriculture issued the Administrative Order 08 which deferred the implementation of Section 17 to December 2016. In the same year, the Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Standards (BAFS) of the Department of Agriculture, called for the formation of the Technical Working Group (TWG) to draft the guidelines for PGS development which would serve as a basis for PGS accreditation or registration.

The draft document was presented in National Organic Agriculture Congresses to solicit comments and suggestions from the stakeholders. There was very strong support to recognize PGS, however, the government was tied to the provisions of the existing law and they could only support PGS to a limited capacity.

Mr. Andre Leu during the 2013 National PGS Conference in Quezon City, Philippines © Masipag

The Amendment

Despite the importance and urgency, it was only in 2018 that the Senate prioritized the amendment of the law with Senator Cynthia Villar as the main author. PGS Pilipinas and Masipag had been constantly consulted and they participated in Committee hearings and finally the refinement of the amendment.

Then, on June 1, 2020, the Senate finally approved the amendment of RA 10068 which had a particular focus on PGS. It took the Philippines 10 years to amend its law to recognize PGS.  With this recognition, policy makers should be reminded that, aside from recognizing PGS, they should also acknowledge the central role of smallscale farmers as well as indigenous people and their communities in the development of organic agriculture sector, as they continuously provide healthy food and vibrant economic activity. Smallholder farmers have long been marginalized in the country when they should instead have been a priority.

PGS Guidelines Development Technical Working Group © Masipag

Thus, the recognition of PGS should be reinforced by the provision of appropriate support in terms of production, processing, prioritization of local distribution and marketing. Related polices such as genuine agrarian reform, protection of the environment and stoppage of land use conversion should be in place to fully realize an “increase farm productivity and farmer incomes, reduce pollution and destruction of the environment, prevent the depletion of natural resources, encourage the participation of indigenous organic farmers promoting their sustainable practices further protect the health of farmers, consumers, and the general public,” as stated in the Declaration of Policy.

[1] The NOAB is the agency within the Department of Agriculture that is responsible for the implementation of the National Organic Agricultural Program (NOAP)

Related article:

Buena, MRA. The PGS ( R )evolution in the Philippines. Pp. 6-9, The Organic Standards. Issue 180/2018

Learn more about how governments can recognize and support PGS here

Maria Rowena A. Buena, Masipag

Maria Rowena A. Buena has been working with Masipag for 20 years. She is now the Regional Coordinator for Masipag Luzon and a member of the IFOAM PGS Committee. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Agriculture and Master’s Degree in Management at the University of the Philippines, Los Baños.