Ecolabeling as a Sustainability Strategy for Smallholder Farming? The Emergence of Participatory Certification Systems in Brazil

  •  Guilherme Radomsky    
  •  Ondina Leal    


This article explores the emergence of ecolabeling of organic products in the context of the contemporary debate on global risks related to food production and consumption, focusing in particular on the implications for smallholder farming in Brazil. Independent certification is sustained by technical and bureaucratic mechanisms, sanctioned by international organizations and multilateral agencies whose power structures encourage the production of rules and systems of enforcement. By contrast, local food movements and civil society initiatives point to the emergence of alternative, participatory forms of ecolabeling. These local organizations have come up with new ways of constructing collective quality seals and assurances for products. They have spurred debates on the technologies, power structures and risks associated with corporate agriculture, large-scale pesticide use and chemically grown produce. As an alternative, ecolabeling requires a multi-level articulation of smallholder farming, food cooperatives and farmer markets, in order to create a local certification system for eco-sustainable produce and maintain the sustainability of traditional modes of existence of small farmers. Grounded in a long-term ethnographic study among ecological family farming in the western region of Santa Catarina, Brazil, this paper examines ecolabeling legal frameworks both globally and locally. It highlights the complexity of the eco-labeling process in Brazil, a context where diverse farmers’ movements, non-governmental organizations and technical and State political actors grapple with questions relating to the social and economic values of sustainable organic agriculture. The data presented here is based on bibliographical, documental research and analysis of laws, decrees and norms. The study examines the recent historical process involving certification rules and regulations, especially those affecting agriculture. It also surveys the literature on the topic, bringing to light interpretive variations and other cases offering a contrast to Brazil’s experience.


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