Topic: Participatory Guarantee Systems for small farms and local markets: involving consumers in the guarantee process
Keywords: Participatory Guarantee Systems, local food systems, geographical indications, producer-consumer networks, digital representations
This paper addresses the development of alternative certification systems, known as Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) and intends to rethink schemes of geographical indications (GI) and traditional specialties through a participatory approach. In a context of growing criticism of conventional third-party certification, PGS aims to construct an alternative process of guaranteeing the authenticity of GI with the active participation of producers, consumers and other stakeholders engaged in the production chain.
Using the case study of an existing producer-run PGS of ‘Feta’ cheese with the PDO label ‘Terra Thessalia’ (Thessaly, Greece) this paper contextualizes and analyzes the PGS scheme and explores the future role of consumers by allowing their direct participation in the guarantee process. Based on semi-structured interviews conducted with consumers in rural and urban areas and focus groups with consumers, farmers the research explores: a) consumer awareness and expectations of the PGS by analyzing their perceived needs, values, preferences and opinions concerning the identity, quality and guarantee process of local food and GI, b) the effect of various PGS features (material and immaterial) of the territorial resource (e.g. pasture lands, flock, breed, animal feed proximity and welfare, health and quality of products, environmental footprint, traditions, etc.) on consumers’ purchasing behavior for the product guaranteed by PGS. In order to better visualize the existing PGS features, the interviews are complemented by the use of 3D spatial representations as a way to consult consumers, share information and get their feedback.
In this way the research aims to explore how the ‘consumer’ perspective can improve and reinforce the effectiveness and legitimacy of the existing PGS by identifying challenges and influencing factors associated with the guarantee process and PGS recognition. We further intend to portray in an understandable way the consumer’s ‘link’ with the place of production, authenticity and specificity of the geographical indication and support a common vision between consumers and producers by enhancing knowledge exchange, participation, reciprocity, transparency and trust.