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Abstract

Using the definition developed by Hess and Ostrom (2007), we consider the content of organic farming labels as a system of intellectual common-pool resources. Access to this resource is threatened by phenomena of enclosure and commodification. Third party certification, which is controlled by private competitive operators, is becoming the unique channel to gain legal access to public labels in many countries. However, the high cost of this certification may exclude a large part of the community at the origin of the resource – especially small diversified farmers. It also threatens resource renewal. In this article, we describe an alternative mechanism called participatory guarantee systems (PGS). Participatory certification is based on peer-review assessment (involving producers from the community), additional control mechanisms are also mobilized according to the context, in order to measure compliance with the standard’s specifications. PGS encourage producers to share knowledge, support ongoing learning processes and, thus, resource renewal. Drawing on design principles from Ostrom’s approach, we analyse ten PGS initiatives in the world – Nature et Progrès (France), Ecovida (Brazil), Certified Naturally Grown (United States), Organic Farm New Zealand, the Asociacion Nacional de Productores/as Ecologicos (Peru), Vietnam PGS, PGS India, Ngong Organic Farmer Association (Kenya), Good Market Organic PGS (Sri Lanka) and BioSPG du Conseil National de l'agriculture Biologique (Burkina Faso) – and discuss their robustness and sustainability. We demonstrate their relatively robustness in terms of self-organization and suggest that their current development in many countries contribute to a re-appropriation of the commons.

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