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Market-based programming: Challenges and Recommendations from across CALP’s network

When it comes to market-based programming what's the best approach? CALP's members have some great ideas including widening the scope of market monitoring, and making longer term market forecasts.

23 June 2021 — By Steph Roberson

People In Night Market July 13, 2017

Amazing resource alert! Over the past ten months the CALP Network has been interviewing a range of experts from across its network in order to learn their views on all things cash related. 

The interviews are all available via our ‘Network perspectives Playlist’ on YouTube in English, Arabic and French (Spanish coming soon). 

One topic that people had a lot to say about was market-based programming.  Our members spoke about common challenges, but also provided advice on how to implement more effective market-based programming. Read on to see if you can relate to these challenges, and if you agree with the recommendations.   

Three challenges of implementing Market-Based Programming 


1. Difficulties engaging with government officials

 A number of our members noted that government officials often are not familiar with market-based programming or what the benefits are of designing programmes to support market development and recovery.  

One key challenge identified by a number of different organisations is the need to engage with local authorities to understand these benefits, and the linkages between Cash and Voucher Assistance and Market-Based Programming. 

“For us, the main impediments in this were cooperation with authorities. Because authorities sometimes they are sceptical, why you will go to the markets? Why you will do this assessment? While everything is known, the prices are known, everything is known, why you want to go there?”


Nabil Abdullah, Deputy CEO Partnerships and Communications, Yemen Family Care Association  


2. Access to markets – especially during the pandemic 

Another major challenge we have seen in the last year in particular is that of access to markets, especially during the COVID pandemic where travelling and visiting marketplaces can be heavily restricted.  

“The main challenges when carrying out market research to improve the different aspects of cash transfers according to World Vision’s experience are that often access to markets is not possible for climate reasons or for situations like the COVID pandemic.


Other reasons are that violence and insecurity prevent groups from accessing the markets and consulting producers. Governments can also ban transport temporarily or to some areas in the communities or the country and producers and traders can fear telling how well their businesses are doing or their volume of business as they could face extorsion or violence if they share that information.”


Ana Elizabeth Araniva, Program Manager and Cash Advisor for the Venezuela Response, World Vision Canada  

the CALP Network and our members have produced guidance on remote market assessments and monitoring which could help to mitigate some of these challenges.

3. A lack of expertise in market-based assessments 

As more organisations become familiar with market-based programming, a big concern for many of our members is that the humanitarian focus of most market assessments is too narrow. Too often we are assessing and analysing market functionality purely to see if a cash response is feasible or not. But market functionality goes far beyond cash interventions, and a deeper understanding of the market context, along with targeted interventions designed to support longer-term market recovery, can reap much bigger returns for affected communities.  

“There are challenges in an emergency context to be able to understand the complexity of the roles and relationships among market system actors including the equity and power dynamics at play. Market Analysis is still mostly agency-centred, such as how can we as humanitarians use markets to deliver our responses, as opposed to people-centred, how are communities using and accessing markets to cover their needs?”


Ali Mansoor, Cash Working Group Coordinator, South Sudan, CashCap/IOM  

One of the key issues here is that having a deeper understanding of market functionality is often beyond the expertise of humanitarians. Many practitioners are trained to conduct emergency market mapping and analysis, using tools like the EMMA toolkit or the Red Cross Market Analysis Guidance tool (MAG), but very few of us are market experts or economists able to understand complex economic drivers or longer-term market forecasting, which would be beneficial in the long run. 

“(One) organisation with experience of market-based programming developed their programme around market-based approaches. They put that lens and they have this expertise and longer-term experiences on how markets behave, what are the power dynamics and what could be the volatilities, and trends and economic drivers. So they designed the whole project cycle around the market systems for example.


And, if we look at the private sector, when they do any type of intervention, they consider trends of the last 20 years, last 10 years, and they also consider the forecasting. How (NGOs) are forecasting, are considering those trends (in humanitarian responses) is a question.”


Ali Mansoor, Cash Working Group Coordinator, South Sudan, CashCap/IOM  

Recommendations – making Market-Based Programming  work for you. 


1. Clearly define the scope of your assessment– which markets will be included, which items, and what are the parameters of your assessment? Are you considering issues of gender and inclusion from the beginning of your assessment? 

“Are you looking at links or routes which connect the market with the other production areas? Is that market functional throughout the year or only during certain seasons? What are the types of the goods that are available? Security around the market is very important. The price. And who are the major dealers who are keeping the market busy – local community or traders who are coming from a nearby countries like Sudan, Uganda, or those who are coming from Ethiopia, the Upper Nile?”


Sabit Akech, Food Security and Livelihoods Project Manager, WarChild, South Sudan 

2. Know your key analytical questions really well, this will help to guide you in the analytical process 

3. Ensure your assessment team are well-trained and are familiar with the tool you are planning to use, and that the tool has been adapted appropriately 

4. Have the right team composition in place– have you considered ensuring diverse expertise among the team, such as having programme sector specialists, data analysts, supplies officers? Have you considered language fluency and gender in your team?  

 “A key consideration is having someone on your assessment team who is a decision-making authority, who will help ensure that the results are utilised in the overall programming of the organisation.”


Sahara Dahir Ibrahim, Cash and Markets Regional Adviser, ECSA Region, CARE 

  1. Ensure you are coordinating and sharing joint approaches wherever possible.Multiple agencies will benefit from market analysis, and many may be planning to conduct assessments, so join forces and share resources as much as you can to save time and allow for a more comprehensive picture of the market. 

“Remember that the market assessment is a snapshot in time, like all assessments, so if you are working in a highly dynamic context, keep in mind that you might have to either go back and reanalyse or monitor the situation because it could be changing quite quickly. So don’t burn your budget on one massive assessment when you know there could be changes in a couple of weeks’ time”


Lili Mohiddin, Regional Cash and Markets Adviser, NRC, East Africa and Yemen 

6. Go deep in your analysis – (don’t just monitor prices).

One of the biggest pitfalls humanitarian agencies fall into again and again is to only monitor prices, usually in conjunction with a cash or voucher assistance programme, without regularly monitoring the bigger picture of market functionality, and how that might impact the people affected by crisis.  

“To give you an example, there was a large voucher scheme in Nigeria, where they were giving vouchers to households, and they realised via market monitoring, that the shops that were part of their voucher scheme, they were closing 2-3 days after the voucher distribution. They were not available anymore and not open anymore for the non-targeted households. And via the market monitoring they realised that access to markets for non-targeted households was reduced. Hence they have been able to spread the voucher distribution over a longer period of time, giving more incentive for the shops to remain open over a longer period of time, re-establishing access for the non-targeted households.”


Helene Juillard, Director, Key Aid Consulting  

Our members are clear that market monitoring, and making use of this data in a meaningful way, is an area that we as humanitarians need to improve on universally. We need to move beyond “What is the price of rice today, what was it yesterday?” and think about broader market trends and how we can analyse them effectively. This is linked back to the bigger issue of market capacity and skillset within Humanitarian practitioners – very few of whom have the in-depth capacity to understand and analyse wider market economies and trends.  

“I think it would be great if we could be more creative in our monitoring of markets. We tend to only really look at prices, but it would be very good to look at other elements for example, you know, are traders selling an increased diversity of goods and services? Are they employing more people? Has there been a change in regulation? Is there more information on prices? So it would be great if we could do that, especially in places where we have multiple cash projects or market-based interventions which might have a bigger impact on markets.”


Lili Mohiddin, Regional Cash and Markets Adviser, NRC East Africa and Yemen 

In conclusion 

There is a lot of food for thought here on how we can improve our approach to market-based programming.  

Is the answer more training on market analysis for more staff? Or should we instead be looking at recruiting market economy specialists who can advise us on these wider trends and forecasting?  

As the line between humanitarian, development, and social protection programmes starts to blur even further, (did somebody say nexus?), do we need to consider a fresh approach to market analysis, and more comprehensive commitment to market-based programming?  

These are just some of the questions we’ve been prompted to think about more deeply thanks to conversations with CALP members. To listen to the full range of fascinating interviews, get tips and advice from experts on a broad range of topics relating to CVA, take a look at our Network Perspectives Playlist on YouTube. 


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