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Group Certification in the South: Digitalisation should be key to integrity

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Guest Article by Gerald A. Herrmann

A person writes something into a netbook
Digitalisation could be the key to problems with group certifications in the global South. © iStock / tadamichi

The EU Commission’s proposal to further regulate group certification has raised great concern within the organic community. Without a doubt, costs for small-scale farmers would sharply increase and “keep the small ones small”, if not driving them out of business at all. Instead of limiting the size of grower groups to 2,000 members, we should help them to professionalise by going digital.

Planned changes may destroy livelihoods of thousands of small-scale farmers

Tightening the rules for group certification has long been overdue. The concept is one of the most powerful market access tools for small-scale farmers, but the fact that group sizes worldwide vary between less than a hundred to tens of thousands of members obviously raises compliance concerns. However, the EU’s approach does not solve the problem. Combining the restriction of group and farm size with a high external inspection rate would merely add bureaucracy and a lot of cost – without automatically improving compliance. Instead, digital systems are key for transparency.

Digitalisation and professionalisation must be the focus

Still today, grower groups work mainly with paper or complicated excel-sheets. This will not improve if the amount of their members is limited to 2,000 whilst administrative costs are rising. On the contrary: funds urgently needed for hardware, software and IT training will instead be spent on increased external certification and administration (for example, for dividing groups of 20,000 members into 10 different legal entities). Rather than artificially forcing grower groups into smaller structures and thereby “keeping the small ones small”, they should be proactively empowered to advance, to professionalise, to digitise.

Many businesses and certifiers worldwide already use ERP-Systems and certification management solutions – why shouldn’t grower groups use professional software to manage and document their compliance with international organic regulations? Appropriate and well-tested tools are available at an affordable price, and even though they may require some training, they would be a sustainable investment in making the small ones stronger.

What matters in the end is that a group is functioning, well structured, transparent, and reliable. These factors should determine a group’s conditions for certification – not the number of its members.

 


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