DIGITALIZING LOCAL FOOD MANAGEMENT NETWORK THROUGH PARTICIPATORY GUARANTEE SYSTEMS IN THE SOUTHERN REGION
As a part of the portfolio, UNDP recently in partnership with Yala Municipality and local stakeholders co-designed the digital strategies on traceability and e-commerce for local food markets. It found that over 80 percent of food sources cannot be identified as originated from Yala province and the region indicating the low level of traceability and food security for the city whereas there is increasing awareness and demand of quality and safe food among local populations in the localities. However, when it comes to local food supplies the local municipalities who manage municipal fresh markets or household consumers find it difficult to access and gather food products which quality and safety can be guaranteed and trusted. This is a common problem faced in other municipalities and subdistricts around the southern border provinces.
On the other side, entering to the health-concern consumer market requires certification or some forms of guarantee, and many smallholder farmers lack the capacity to differentiate their organic products from the conventional products. Agricultural and food standards are difficult to obtain among local farmers and fishers due to high regulatory cost and lack of trust from consumers. This prevents smallholder farmers from profiting from these new markets and improve their livelihoods. Although the promotion of food traceability can help creating awareness and demands of food security, safety, and sustainability among consumers and producers, there are not many trusted platforms widely used in the southern border provinces. It resonates well with earlier food value chain assessment and personas that food certification system in Thailand is quite complex and fragmented, thus in need of inclusive redesigning and affordable platform. The economic structure of southern border provinces of Thailand has remained largely unchanged for the last 20 years. Agriculture sector accounted for more than one-third of the southernmost Gross Provincial Product, and more than 40 percent of workforce are in this sector. Therefore, improving the productivity and skills in the sector will contribute to the reduction of poverty and inequality in the region.
In this regard, Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) offers an alternative community-based approach to promote sustainable production and empower both consumers and producers in the localities to actively take parts in the local healthy food systems. According to IFOAM, “Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) are locally focused quality assurance systems with a strong emphasis on social control and knowledge building. They are built on trust, social networks and knowledge exchange in with producers are certified on the basis of the active participation of stakeholders…”.
Seeking for shared value across various stakeholders are key to the portfolio approach. With abovementioned situation and possible solutions, UNDP in collaboration with Baramizi Lab and Thailand Sustainable Agricultural Confederation organized a knowledge sharing workshop on “Developing Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) for Safety and Quality Food Production in the Southern Border Provinces” in October 2021 to 1) explore knowledge about Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) and assess the situation and an overview of sustainable agriculture among the network of farmers in the southern border provinces, 2) identify gaps, opportunities, and constraints towards PGS promotion, including improving sustainable agriculture and local sustainable food systems, and 3) build a network of agencies and farmers working on quality assurance system at the local level with an emphasis on the participation of stakeholders and based on trusted community network.
As a result, it confirmed by participants that three southern border provinces should build a cross-community and gender balanced network, assessment and enhancing the capacity of local producers within the community. The network should consist of farmers, food suppliers, local governments and CSOs to play a crucial role in jointly expanding safe and quality food production areas, monitoring food supplies, and supporting potential partners to plan, generate local economy and maintain food accessibility in the region. This is aligned closely with the digital strategy for local food markets indicating the establishment of strong food producers and farmers network as the most important, doable initial step to strengthen the local food systems and improve health and local livelihoods in normal time and in time of crises.
Following to the workshop, UNDP in Thailand has been supporting Baan Thai Phulita Agricultural Learning Center and Thailand Sustainable Agriculture Confederation to establish and strengthen the provincial networks of food producers (PGS farmers) in Naratiwat, Pattani, and Yala with digital database, platform, and technical capacity building. These networks could benefit from online platform to share information and mutually guaranteed and connect to physical platform like local fresh markets in each locality.
- Established the provincial networks – Sustainable Agriculture Confederations in Narathiwat, Pattani, and Yala provinces of Thailand incorporating farmers, food suppliers, local governments and CSOs;
- Provided training for local farmers to enhance their knowledge of organic farming and quality assurance in PGS participatory standards and encourage them to become PGS organic inspectors;
- Established PGS database working groups in three target provinces to maintain the continuous use of Organic Agricultural Network: OAN as the trusted guarantee platform; and
- Developed a knowledge-sharing platform via meetings of the SDGsPGS Participatory Organic Standards Certification Committee and regular sessions for matching between certified farmers and buyers.
- Provincial Sustainable Agriculture Confederations in Narathiwat, Pattani, and Yala were established to run the cross-community collaborations with ensuring the quality and safety of food production and distribution. Members are from various sectors such as farmers, municipality officials, subdistrict administrators, young entrepreneurs, schoolteachers, public health officials, and provincial agricultural officials. Challenges and opportunities were discussed for possible solutions contextualized to each province.
- 59, 43, and 45 founding members of each Confederation in Narathiwat, Pattani, and Yala respectively are equipped with knowledge and skills for sustainable agricultural practices, value chain mechanism, SDGsPGS standards, OAN database management, production planning and matching with markets. They are qualified as SDGsPGS Inspectors who will perform a regular peer-inspecting assignment for smallholder farmers in the networks.
- 47.5, 21, and 48.09 rai of agricultural lands in Narathiwat, Pattani, and Yala were inspected and guaranteed as sustainable agricultural land and/or organic agriculture. They will be reviewed and officially certified by the SDGsPGS Participatory Organic Standards Certification Committee in February 2022.
- Farmers in the networks are able to use online farm management platform called OAN: Organic Agricultural Network to record their farming inputs, outputs, and geographical features of the plot. These data are open for anyone to trace the origin, process of production, and trusted certification of each farmer.
Read summary report of this initiative here: Establishment of Food management network through participatory guarantee systems