September 13

Andy Hunter

Implementing Market Systems Programs in Fragile Contexts

Imagine for a minute that you are a farmer in a harsh climate with a short and fragile growing season. You rely on your farm for a majority of your income as well as a large portion of the food you provide for your growing family. Imagine as well, that as far back as you can remember there has been conflict in some parts of your country and you have never really experienced what it’s like to live in complete security. Each production cycle, you aim for the safest viable return to ensure your livelihood; your appetite for risk is extremely low, and you simply cannot afford to experiment with anything that may jeopardize your essential harvest.

If you can imagine this, then you may be able to relate to some of the inspiring Afghan farmers whom we work with in multiple provinces across Afghanistan.


A Market Broken by Conflict: The Case of Afghanistan

Most farmers are operating in a market system that has been broken by conflict, where market actors are unable or unwilling to perform the services expected because they simply cannot find a commercial proposition to operate normally. These actors instead have been propped up, or in many cases replaced, by the global humanitarian effort to provide essential services to farmers. Aid programs historically have gravitated toward providing seeds and fertilizers to farmers directly, as deciphered to be the most cost and time effective way to support farmer livelihoods in the short term.

As market systems practitioners, however, we know that replacing these essential commercial services with donor-funded direct delivery options is a market distortion that ultimately ensures a complete collapse of a functional market system. In 2016, it is incumbent upon implementing agencies in Afghanistan to stop undermining the market system and to begin restoring it. To do this, NGOs need to better engage commercial market actors to slowly wean those that remain off subsidies and allow natural Afghan entrepreneurship to grow into the market gaps. This must be a staged but deliberate approach, phasing out the handouts, subsidies and direct service delivery and working together to build the capability of the market system such that there is a return of the commercial incentive for private actors to provide essential market services.


Working and Learning Together at #SEEP2016

Join us for an interactive session at the 2016 SEEP Annual Conference, “From Relief to Systemic Programing: Agricultural Market Development in Afghanistan,” where you will hear practitioners from World Vision, CARE, Aga Khan Development Network and Oxfam share their experiences of attempting this staged approach. We will illuminate the challenges of this transition and the enormity of the mindshift required from farmers, private actors and, perhaps most importantly, the very implementing staff our agencies rely on to enact this change.

Each presenting organization will share their progress and provide an example of some of the key challenges to making this shift. The group discussion to follow will be a chance to harness the experience in the room and build on the presenters’ examples in order to broaden the discussion across all the fragile contexts that we find ourselves operating in.


Andy Hunter works for World Vision Australia’s Social Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (SEED) Unit as an economic development consultant.

This blog originally appeared on the SEEP Network’s website and is reprinted here with permission. 


Photo: World Bank Photo Collection, via Flickr.


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