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Market Monitoring across the Humanitarian-Development Nexus: Linking the COVID Market & Supply Chain Monitoring Experience in Lesotho to Livelihoods Programming

Multiple Uses of Market Monitoring

Market monitoring is often considered primarily a humanitarian sector activity, where price and food security information helps identify potential red flags requiring changes to targeting or valuation of cash and voucher assistance or direct food deliver, often built around Minimum Expenditure Baskets. However, market monitoring has a multitude of uses across the humanitarian-development nexus and within market systems and private sector engagement activities as well.

Many Market Systems Development or value chain interventions rely on initial or one-off market assessments to identify opportunities for producers to engage with markets and access more competitive and sustainable income streams. However, market monitoring can serve a similar function and has the benefit of tracking trends through the periodic collection of data. Market monitoring is highly customizable but typically tracks regular (often monthly) trends in the prices of key food and non-food commodities in markets, along with elements of food security (e.g. access, availability) and livelihoods. Market assessments usually combine data from households (consumers) and local vendors, wholesalers, transporters, and other supply chain actors (suppliers) to get a more holistic picture of how market dynamics affect different stakeholders.

Understanding how local, national, and international markets function and interact is therefore a critical step in designing effective programs but also in making critical adaptations to them so that project participants can leverage their full potential. For example, monitoring market conditions over the life of a program can help practitioners to:

  • Assess how well the market is functioning and identify existing and/or potential bottlenecks (e.g. unavailability or high prices of certain commodities) that affect food security and livelihoods of consumers
  • Identify whether anticipated changes in the supply of, or demand for, key commodities risk further escalating market anomalies, and identify strategies to mitigate the impact of such changes
  • Design interventions that enable project participants to turn market gaps into opportunities for durable and diversified livelihoods
  • Track whether programmatic responses positively or negatively distort local markets

Market Monitoring at CRS

CRS has two strong tools that have facilitated market monitoring achievements to date. MARKit is a project-level market monitoring framework that guides users to identify abnormal price changes and to understand the cause(s) driving the changes. It helps programs maintain the principle of Do No Harm and reduce or resolve unintended impacts on market systems, including those caused by the intervention and those induced by market forces external to the program. Developed in 2015, MARKit has been a central feature of USAID’s efforts to promote market monitoring through its Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance both recommending the tool for market monitoring and incorporating the tool into their Annual Program Statement (APS) and the BHA Emergency Application Guidelines. MARKit has been used in the DRC, Nigeria, and other sub-Saharan countries as well as used externally by INGOs such as the International Refugee Committee (IRC).

The Market and Supply Chain (MSC) Monitoring tool was originally developed in response to COVID-19 and is CRS’ light-touch and rapid rollout monitoring toolkit intended to flag potential issues in markets, including impacts on households, vendors, and implications of local conditions on supply chains. The MSC uses short, monthly surveys that track (1) market access, availability, and affordability of market goods at the household level; (2) prices and business challenges at the vendor level; and (3) disruptions and challenges throughout the supply chain. The main advantage of the MSC is its simplicity and ease in setting up, making it a good fit for rapid-onset or short-term crisis scenarios. Created in April 2020 in response to the rapidly changing nature of COVID, the MSC has been implemented in 11 countries across sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Moving beyond the initial monitoring of COVID-impacts, the MSC has been integrated into monitoring conflict in Ethiopia and the Ebola outbreak in Guinea. 

CRS Lesotho’s Use of Market Monitoring to Develop and Modify Livelihoods Programming

CRS’ Lesotho country program was an early user of the COVID Markets and Supply Chain Monitoring tool. As a landlocked country with high levels of key food and non-food items imported from neighboring South Africa, the MSC was viewed as a key means to track the impacts of COVID on project participants. However, after a few months of tracking market trends and identifying persistently high prices with key staples (like maize meal) and supply chain issues that limited the availability of vegetables (like cabbage and pulses) in the market, the team in Lesotho decided to utilize the data not just to prioritize market gaps for consumers but also as market opportunities for farmers and producers.

As part of its UNDP-funded Green Value Chain (GVC) project, CRS Lesotho sought to create sustainable green livelihoods and jobs for households impacted by COVID-19 in the target areas. Given that the MSC helps address food security barriers using market information for evidence-based decision making on production, marketing, and product development for farmer groups, CRS Lesotho was able to propose the MSC tool as a resource that provides regular market information supporting and identifying gaps for the GVC project. CRS Lesotho has partnered with the Lesotho National Farmers Union (LENAFU), Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS), Ministry of Small Businesses, Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC), and Standard Lesotho Bank to share MSC data. Actors who engage directly with farmers – such as the LENAFU – will help their members use the MSC market information to identify which products to grow to take advantage of high prices or supply gaps, which will improve farmers’ livelihoods. Initial results from the first round of data collection from the MSC highlight customer preferences for chicken to be processed and packaged in smaller pieces unlike the full chicken that producers usually offer; this insight will be helpful in allowing producers to optimize their profits by responding to customer preferences and engaging in value addition activities. In addition, the project will build marketing capacities using CRS’ Seven Steps of Marketing curriculum, and facilitate the establishment of farmers networking platforms, and coordinate dialogues between farmers and the private sector (local and national buyers, investors etc.). In this case, up-to-date commodity-specific market information from the MSC will enhance farmers’ likelihood of successful market engagement and ultimately improve their lives through sustainable livelihoods.

Authors: Bokang Mabitso, Leslie Otto, and Austen Moore

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