Wheat farming in Afghanistan
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 jeopardise 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 fertilisers 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 insures 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.
Blog originally published on The Seep Network: http://www.seepnetwork.org/blog/market-systems-development-fragile-contexts