Why Group Integrity

Strengthening small-scale farmers

Group Integrity is an innovated software with a focus on cost efficiency that helps to improve growers’ situation by reducing the burden of third party certification system. Various groups and certifiers are able to establish group certification systems in order to reduce the costs and time involved in certification.These systems ensure compliance with e.g. organic standards and require groups to implement an ICS operated by a central body of the group.

The group certification schemes are accepted and applied globally, however, the implementation of a group’s ICS remains a challenge and a demanding task for the groups.

Group Integrity will address these challenges. It is an innovative and unique software solution for professionalising small farmers’ organisations to facilitate the certification.

Barriers to overcome

Organic and other markets defined by sustainable standards like fairtrade, UTZCertified, GlobalG.A.P. require annual inspections of each producer independent of the size of the farm to be carried out by a third-party certification body. However, as globally the vast majority of farmers are smallholders, the certification system especially in developing countries becomes too costly and time-consuming and may therefore exclude small agricultural producers from participating in organic and other markets.

Group certification concept

To reduce costs and time spent on certification while assuring compliance with the applicable production standards, group certification systems have been developed even before government regulations became mandatory. These systems require groups to implement an internal quality verification system, also known as Internal Control System (ICS).

With an ICS in place, the group is considered a single production unit. It is regularly inspected and certified by a certification body, provided a well-functioning ICS can be demonstrated.

Legal situation

Today the group certification concept is accepted by relevant organic regulations, however it has never been fully integrated into the regulations. It found its recognition in guidance notes e.g. of the EU Organic Regulation and NOP.


The implementation of a group’s internal control system is demanding. Key challenges are among others:

  • Reliable implementation of the group’s internal functions and procedures in line with the requirements of the regulation/ standard applied and the third party certification body involved.
  • Comprehensive and transparent administration and retrievable documentation of the individual members of the group.
  • The comprehensive application of the work flow of internal control, certification and corrective actions and of the other internal procedures applied.

Group certification concept is questioned

It has been observed that groups’ performance as well as the practices of the certifiers applying the group certification option is very variable. And, this is where the critics rightfully complain: there is no consistency in how groups are executed or controlled. Often, a group cannot supply an actual members list, their certification status or other essential criteria.

Thus, both regulators (NOP/ EU) have either raised the percentage of external re-inspections, which has resulted in an added financial burden or, as in the current EU revision process, are even discussing whether to eliminate the option of the grower group internal control/ quality system entirely. This is an alarming sign as raising costs or even the loss of the grower group certification concept would create an insurmountable economic barrier for small scale farmers to access organic markets.

Capacity building and closing the gap

Various organizations like IFAD, FAO, UNEP, development and export agencies are taking very welcome and concrete steps towards supporting small scale farmers. However, most of these much needed activities are either lacking the instruments to create sound and stable groups or are falling short as the small farmers are unable to reach out to the markets in an organized and trustworthy way.

This is where a new initiative comes into play which is closing this gap. The international consultancy Organic Services has partnered with the certification body CERES to develop a tool for professionalizing small farmers named ‘Group Integrity’. Interested certification bodies among them the Instituto Biodinamico, the Institute for Marketecology (IMO) and the Naturland association participated in its development. Group Integrity supports self-organized groups and businesses with small producers under contract farming in the management of their internal quality control system (ICS).

Group Integrity was made possible by building on ECERT® – a generic and modular work flow based audit, certification, CRM and management tool for certification bodies, which is in use globally. The software has been reduced to a lighter version that is suitable for use by groups, and affordable.

Group Integrity, whose development was and is further supported by a Public Private Partnership (PPP) co-financed by DEG (Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH), a German development finance institution, was launched at BioFach 2013 and since implemented globally.

Cocoa Farm
Latin America smallholder
Farming India
Coffee growing

co-financed by: