Participatory Guarantee Systems for safe vegetables in Vietnam
April 18, 2023
Food safety scandals are run-of-the-mill in Vietnam: not a week goes by without a new scandal being reported in the newspapers. The chronic overuse of dangerous and low quality pesticides poses a risk for farmers and consumers. The Vietnamese consumer is becoming more and more conscious of this danger, which manifests itself in the rapid increase of the demand for safe, organic vegetables that meet standards of safety and hygiene. This growing demand for organically and safely produced vegetables is a great opportunity for Vietnamese vegetable farmers. If they respond to this market demand, they are able to not only increase their income, but also to feed local communities in a safe, sustainable way. Farmers that produce safe and organic vegetables can have their vegetables certified by an external party, but this process is often costly and very complex. This is not a viable route for smallholder farmers.
PGS, the Participatory Guarantee System, is the alternative: it is a quality assurance system that guarantees the quality of safe agricultural products and has the potential to regain consumer trust. PGS differs from third party certifications in a number of ways. First of all, in its cost: it is much less expensive. Secondly, in its complexity: it entails far less administrative burden. Both of these make it more in line with the reality of smallholder farmers. A third big difference is its approach. As the name suggests, direct participation of farmers and even consumers in the guarantee process is required. Principles and rules for safe or organic production are conceived and applied through contributions of all stakeholders: producers, government, private sector and consumers. They are adapted to fit the local context, taking into account individual communities, geographic area, cultural environment and markets. The credibility of production quality and safety is enhanced by the participation of different stakeholders at different stages.
Firm believer in the benefits of PGS, Rikolto partnered with 10 farmer organisations in 4 provinces in northern Vietnam (Ha Nam, Phu Tho, Da Nang and Vinh Phuc) to help build up the production and marketing skills of farmers. We use the outcomes of these projects to convince provincial and national governments of PGS’ potential as a low-cost and reliable certification system, in the hope that it will be officially recognized and endorsed.
The Vietnamese government supports VietGAP, an expensive, labour-intensive and complex third-party certification which remains largely inaccessible to smallholders. While the total vegetable production in Vietnam is estimated to be about 735,000 ha, only 63,000 ha (8%) have a VietGAP certificate (Dao Bach Khoa et. al. 2015).
Small-scale farmers often lack knowledge and experience on how to apply good agricultural practices that are compatible with food safety and organic standards.
Many of our partner cooperatives and collaborative groups were recently established and lack the business and organisational capacity to reach their full potential as businesses.
Farmers lack experience with post-harvest practices leading to significant food loss.
Farmer organisations often struggle to enter into sustainable relations an contracts with companies, often because of a lack of commitment from the buyers and poor marketing capacity.
Although over 90% of consumers are worried about food safety in Hanoi, less than 5% of vegetables sold have evidence that they are safe. One of the reasons why consumers are reluctant to pay a higher price for safe vegetables is their lack of trust in vendors and certifications.
"All the farmers are equally accountable for the results of their PGS group. The PGS is based on mutual trust: if only one member breaks the rules, the consequences affect the entire group."
Nguyen Tuan Khanh, Director of Dang Xa Agricultural Service Cooperative
Support farmers in implementing safe and organic production methods, in accordance with the BasicGAP or Organic PGS standards;
Set up and support the management of Participatory Guarantee System to lead towards their independent operations;
Train farmers and coach them on marketing, business & production planning, organisational management, business negotiation, accounting, post harvest loss, etc.;
Engage Vietnamese consumers to participate in PGS and to raise their awareness on the issue of safe and sustainable vegetables consumption;
Facilitate the development of long-term inclusive business relationships between farmers, wholesalers, supermarkets and vegetable stores to achieve win-win trading relationships. One of the approaches that we use is the LINK methodology developed by CIAT to improve the collaboration between farmers and private sector actors.
Develop a PGS toolbox to support interested practitioners in setting up and maintaining their own PGS systems.
Document our results and lessons learned to advocate district, provincial and national governments to support and invest in PGS as a reliable and affordable quality assurance system for the benefit of small-scale farmers and consumers.
How do Participatory Guarantee Systems work?
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What have we achieved between 2014 and 2016?
In June 2014 the Trac Van Cooperative obtained an organic certificate from the PGS Network Vietnam. Since then, the number of farmer members doubled and the production area increased from 1 to 5 ha. Between 2013 and 2016, farmers' income per hectare increased from 60 million VND to 360 million VND. Supply contracts have been drawn up between the cooperative and a number of private actors such as the supermarket chain Bac Tom in Hanoi.
A Participatory Guarantee System was set up in Tan Lac district, Hoa Binh. Farmers are now producing organic vegetables according to PGS organic regulations.
Tan Duc's Participatory Guarantee System in Viet Tri, Phu Tho, has been simplified to ensure a clear certification process and farmers' involvement.
PGS has successfully been taken up and adopted by Tu Xa cooperative in Phu Tho who is now supplying safe vegetables to VinEco, the home brand of one of Vietnam's leading minimart chains Vinmart. Prices are 2-3 times higher than on the local market which allows the cooperative to reinvest part of the profits in strengthening its operations and management.
What do we expect to achieve by 2021?
We expect that by the end of 2021:
21 Participatory Guarantee Systems bringing together about 1,100 farmers in Hanoi, Vinh Phuc, Ha Nam, Da Nang and Phu Tho provinces are operational, able to function independently from Rikolto and represent a diversity of stakeholders;
Supported farmer organisations improve their access to safe vegetables markets under good conditions, including through formal contracts that guarantee fair price, long-term commitment and reasonable volumes;
An inspiring PGS model and toolbox is available for practitioners to set up their own PGS, independently from Rikolto’s support;
Partner farmers adopt climate-smart and environmentally friendly practices;
Four provinces have adopted PGS as part of their policies towards safe food and sustainable agriculture;
PGS networks are operational in 4 provinces to promote a more enabling environment for safe vegetable policies in their respective province and ensure coherence amongst PGS systems;
The Vietnamese government has taken steps towards the recognition of PGS as a valid quality assurance mechanism and its adoption in national policies;
Vietnam’s consumer protection system is better able to represent and defend consumers on food safety-related issues.