This profile was prepared when Laércio Meirelles was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
Due to increasing consumer consciousness and growing fears about the environmental and social impact of conventional agriculture, demand for organic agriculture has taken off in recent years. Paradoxically, however, the small-scale farmers for whom the organic movement was created have found it increasingly difficult to compete with their corporate counterparts in the face of such high demand. Laércio has introduced an alternative model to organic certification, which he calls Participatory Guarantee Systems (SPGs), combining regular peer-led visits with frequent training programs. These programs—together with legislative reform and efforts to build consumer awareness—aim to empower rural small-scale farmers and to increase their access to the market. Laércio is working to eliminate the burdensome rules and many complexities that distinguish certification in one country from another, and to replace them instead with a more unified approach that incorporates the shared insights and best practices of farmers from across Brazil, the Americas, and beyond. Having already implemented the model in the South of Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia, Laércio is working to secure international legitimacy, building a powerful cohort of farmers and allies in the field. By enabling an ever-growing number of farmers to take advantage of consumer demand, he thus aims to popularize organic agriculture, transforming what was once merely a niche market into a powerful new standard for sustainable and economically productive agriculture.