Why does group certification matter?

Individual organic certification for smallholders is burdensome and costly

In order to successfully participate in organic export markets, administrative and documentation requirements can be overwhelming. To prepare for the certification against public or private standards, documents such as business descriptions, farm and site plans, field charts, supplier and customer lists have to be prepared, comprehensive questionnaires need to be filled in, measures to comply with the organic legislation have to be worked out and documented meticulously. All this requires a certain educational level and costs time and money. On top of this, there are the costs for the actual organic certification by a third-party certification body including travel expenses, which are usually much too high for single smallholders to afford.

Group certification is one of the most powerful market access tools for small-scale farmers

Group certification implies that a group of farmers joins forces to obtain one certificate for the entire group, instead of each farmstead applying for individual certification. In this case, the external certifier only has to inspect a small percentage of the farms as spot checks on a yearly basis. Most importantly, he must validate the group’s documented quality assurance system, the so-called internal control system (ICS). This way, he delegates the periodic inspection of all group members to internal inspectors of the group. Those internal inspectors are not only responsible for the documentation of the group’s compliance, but also advise the management regarding sanctioning and removing non-compliant group members.

For businesses sourcing from smallholders, group certification is a cost-effective way to ensure compliance

Through group certification, businesses who source from small-scale farmers and sell to national and international markets can proof their suppliers' compliance with public and private standards in a cost-effective way. At the same time, the concept helps these businesses to ensure that their smallholders abide to the contract terms, since a group certificate is only valid for the group as a whole; individual group members cannot use it independently.

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