The Holy Grail of Inclusive Market Development

By Clare Clifton, Inclusive Market Development Manager, Christian Aid

The Holy Grail of Inclusive Market Development

There is something satisfying knowing that when you buy your ethically sourced tea or coffee you are making a contribution to a movement that is helping to improve the lives and businesses of millions of poor producers.

I can’t say I’ve ever got the same fuzzy feeling whilst serving my kids Malawian pigeon peas for dinner, or attempting to get them to eat organic veg from Tamil Nadu in India yet these products are creating equivalent opportunities for poor producers – it’s just not really on our radar in the UK because these products aren’t on our plates.

Christian Aid has been working with partners in countries around the world to develop national agricultural markets for products that analysis shows can have very profitable benefits for marginalised producers. These products might be invisible to us, but they hold the potential to improve the lives of thousands of farmers.

Over the last few years Christian Aid has developed a set of new approaches, all of which are focused on maximising our ability to deliver sustainable impact at scale. Reflecting on our approaches and ambition to deliver impact at scale, there are five things that we have learned:

  1. Know your market better than it knows itself – It sounds obvious but there is more to know about a market than how a product gets from A to B. The supply chain is just the beginning – knowing the power dynamics, how players with different interests interact (or don’t) with each other; understanding how cultural and social norms affect different stakeholders, particularly women – if you don’t know the formal and informal rules affecting your market, logical interventions could have illogical impacts.
  2. Talk to key market stakeholders…and get them to talk to each other – You will be surprised how willing even competitors are to talk to each other when a market opportunity presents itself. Christian Aid has adopted the PMSD approach, developed by Practical Action, which brings together market actors to map, identify and come up with action plans to address problems and realise opportunities in their market. The results can be unexpected – in El Salvador after such a process, the government offered to fund the creation of a much needed processing facility for shrimp farmers so they could compete in the market. It takes extra effort, sensitivity and time to raise confidence of marginalised actors to speak out in these forums but market knowledge empowers producers, even after the process itself.
  3. Aim to change the rules of the game – Even farmers organised into co-operatives struggled to influence the big issues affecting their sector in Malawi. A PMSD process funded through Christian Aid’s DFID Programme Partnership Arrangement brought together farmers, traders, processors, exporters and government to look at the development of the sector. The stakeholders united to form a National Rice Platform which has been recognised by the Government and tasked with developing a national rice strategy. Addressing key issues such as national rice pricing will benefit over 60,000 rice farmers – influencing the big picture issues can benefit those far beyond the reach of your supply chain or programme.
  4. Encourage entrepreneurs to steal your IP (Intellectual Property) – Market systems programmes have to be the only place where you celebrate when entrepreneurs steal your ideas. Partner Mali Folke Centre in Mali supported entrepreneurs to set up Boutique Energetiques – shops selling energy products such as cook stoves. These shops have led to more local entrepreneurs setting up shop selling the most popular product (solar lamps) and to others setting up micro-enterprises selling phone charging services. It isn’t all perfect, there are challenges with assuring product quality from new outlets but the overall outcome is more people living off grid have more choice, and opportunity, to buy energy products at competitive prices.
  5. Treat enterprises….like enterprises – NGOs have not always been the most effective supporters of enterprises. Developing a structured approach to supporting businesses has changed that for Christian Aid. Rigorous analysis and targeted technical assistance supports enterprises to become sustainable and grow. The Hibiscus Cooperative in Nicaragua is an example of this – through our loan and technical support programme they have increased their sales by 76% in 3 years.

These reflections give glimpses into the journey Christian Aid has been on as we have developed our inclusive markets approach. Taking a bird’s eye view the biggest learning is clear – it’s hard to deliver impact at scale if you use the different approaches in isolation. Getting market players to talk to each other without understanding the power dynamics can do more harm than good. Supporting enterprises directly is great, but without the wider work on the system your impact is limited to the reach of the individual enterprise.

We believe it is the holistic nature of our approach that will enable us to deliver on our ambition to improve agricultural markets, at scale, for marginalised producers. You can explore this approach further by visiting

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