Developing the local market for organic products through Participatory Guarantee Systems -
Trade for Development Centre’s projects in Bolivia
Agricultural cooperatives and producers groups in the South often have much in common: a genuine commitment and much potential, but also a clear lack of resources and market insights which impede the development of commercial opportunities. This is exactly where the Trade for Development Centre (TDC), a programme of the Belgian Development Agency, wants to make a difference and provide financial support for the purpose. TDC sees fair and sustainable trade as a powerful weapon in the fight against poverty and for sustainable development and concentrates its project support in the 18 partner countries of the Belgian Development Cooperation in three areas: strengthening the organisational power of small and medium-sized producer groups, improving the quality of their products and enhancing their knowledge of the local, regional or international market.
Within the framework of its programme, TDC has been supporting the Bolivian organisation AOPEB (Asociación de Organizaciones de Productores Ecológicos de Bolivia) since 2010. AOPEB brings together and represents organic farmer organisations and aims to increase the sales of organic products on the Bolivian domestic market through Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS).
Generally, organic certification requires the intervention of external, often western, certification agencies. Thus, getting production certified is expensive and is only considered an option when exporting relatively large volumes to markets in countries of the North. However, there is potential in developing domestic organic markets in the South on the basis of PGS. “Participatory Guarantee Systems 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”. PGS give consumers a guarantee that the products they buy from certified producers formally comply with the principles of organic farming. They are specifically adapted to short supply chains and have a low cost of participation. As such, PGS open the door for smallholders to enter the domestic market of certified organic products.
The first AOPEB project that TDC financed focused on the technical training of the producers and the implementation of the Participatory Guarantee System in their organisations. A next step was the establishment of commercial partnerships between the producer communities and processor or traders. To assure long term sustainability technical assistance was provided to the staff of municipalities that are committed to supporting local organic production chains. The project was enrolled in 20 producer organisations in 5 municipalities, among which the urban centres of La Paz, Cochabamba and Tarija.
The fight for a spot on the market turned out to be a hard one however. That is why TDC decided to emphasize this aspect in a follow-up project. AOPEB is fully focused on a short value chain, especially via municipal organic markets and the organisation of regional organic fairs (“Bioferias”). Another opportunity is provided by school breakfasts. Bolivia's government wants children to have a healthy meal at school and PGS-certified producer groups negotiate with local authorities about which products they can offer for the purpose.
The AOPEB projects aim at enhancing organic product consumption in a very concrete way at all levels of Bolivian society. As a consequence, organic products are not just a fad of European consumers alone, but also the commitment of a society in favour of sustainable economic and social development that is profitable for everyone. This is what TDC hopes to achieve through its support to AOPEB and PGS in Bolivia.