Name of organisation
Réseau des Groupes d’achat solidaire de l’agriculture paysanne – GASAP Network
SPG et cosyfood
The Brussels Region, Belgium
Type of organisation
Community-supported agriculture network
“short food supply chains”; “civic food networks”; “social justice”
What is the “Participatory Guarantee System for GASAP” project?
The Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) programme implemented by the GASAP network in Brussels is an interesting social innovation, as it strives to explore the intersection of Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) and PGS.
Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) are presented by the IFOAM – Organics International as “locally focused quality assurance systems”. Contrary to more traditional third-party certification systems, the direct participation of farmers, consumers and other stakeholders in the verification process is not only encouraged in PGS, but may be required. Such involvement is realistic and achievable given that PGS are likely to serve small farms and local/direct markets. For the GASAP network, PGS is an awareness and information tool, rather than a formalized peer-to-peer quality assurance system. It allows the creation of spaces to meet and conduct in-depth dialogue between producers and eaters and between fellow producers, for a collective assessment of real-life issues faced on the farms by GASAP producers. In other words, the GASAP network’s interest in PGS is not so much to obtain an official certification for GASAP producers, but rather to use the PGS as an inspiration for reinforcing producer-consumer relationships, assessing partnerships and educating about GASAP core values. The experience from the GASAP network’s PGS Programme will be valuable for other CSA groups or networks in other contexts since all CSAs will tend to have similar needs.
PGS is powerful insofar as it really does generate deep, detailed and caring dialogue while pointing to issues that need to be addressed. In terms of process, it consists of organizing a visit every two years to each of the producers in the network; ensuring the follow-up of these visits; and communicating the results to GASAP eaters through at least two information sessions on PGS every year. The GASAP network is also working on the creation of communication tools to popularize the PGS approach.
The GASAP network is a non-profit association that relies on 3 circles to function properly: 1) volunteers, 2) employees, and 3) the Board of Directors (5 members). Currently, 2 GASAP network staff members are organizing and facilitating the PGS visits but the GASAP network made the decision to train volunteer “ambassadors” who will carry out PGS activities.
Who does the “PGS for GASAP” project work with and how does it do it?
The “PGS for GASAP” working group works with producers, processors, eaters, and members of the PGS platform, which includes the farmers’ union Mouvement d’Action Paysanne (member of La Via Campesina), a professional federation of producers called FUGEA (also member of La Via Campesina), the network Agroecology In Action and various land trust and NGOs supporting new entrants like Agricovert, Terre-en-vue, le Début des Haricots.
The PGS platform brings together associations that already operate a PGS or that wish to set up a PGS, and associations close to the farming community. In particular, producers’ and consumers’ cooperatives, farmers’ unions and NGOs, all under the banner of Agroecology in Action.
The aim of the platform is to enhance the PGS developed by each association, to share experience, to create awareness-raising tools for the general public and for producers, to communicate on PGS and to conduct political advocacy. All this would not be possible in isolation. Bringing together the strengths and skills of each association provides more visibility, and enhances the impact on the transition of food systems.
What are the “PGS for CSA” project’s main challenges?
A first challenge is the coordination of the platform, as the partner associations have very different ways of functioning. Each association has its own raison d’être. There is thus a challenge in how to manage joint projects in a structured, optimal and pragmatic way.
A second challenge is access to funding. How to maintain a degree of freedom of choice in projects, given the current dependency on public subsidies? A challenge is thus to come up with alternative sources of funding other than public authorities.
A third challenge relates to human resources. The mission of the GASAP’network s PGS Programme is to recruit “PGS ambassadors” who will be responsible for organizing visits to their GASAP producer(s) and for following up. But finding energy among the network’s volunteers and sustaining the commitment among volunteers is not easy. The question of remuneration for the visiting / visited producers also comes into play. If the participants in the process are not paid, it is difficult to ensure their commitment over time, and if no budget is available, how can the project be sustained in the long run? Some possible solutions related to the issue of sustainability emerge from the exchanges between the members of the PGS platform.
A fourth challenge is linked to prices paid to food producers involved in the GASAP network. It is not enough for the GASAPs and PGS to multiply. As long as prices only reflect a quantity of vegetables and not all the services to the environment and the care for the land, diversified small-scale producers will never be able to compete with the prices of large-scale food producers. The GASAP network tries to encourage various price building techniques in order to ensure a fair income for the producers. But then the question arises, who can afford higher prices? And why is it up to citizens to do this when they already pay taxes? Isn’t it the role of the state to guarantee a decent income for the people who feed us? What about the producers excluded from the CAP supporting schemes?
What are the priorities for the “PGS for CSA” project?
A first strategic priority is to reach more GASAP producers, but their realities make it difficult for them to get involved.
A second priority is to participate in more international initiatives, for example with the actors of the IFOAM PGS platform, notably in France with Nature & Progrès and MIRAMAP, in Italy and Spain where PGS initiatives have been in place for years, and in the Eastern countries where CSAs are developing more and more.