Consultant - Market Systems Assessment

Programs Anywhere, United States



Mercy Corps is a leading global organization powered by the belief that a better world is possible.  In disaster, in hardship, in more than 40 countries around the world, we partner to put bold solutions
into action — helping people triumph over adversity and build stronger communities from within.

Now, and for the future. Mercy Corps has been present in Mali since 2012, responding to emergency needs stemming from conflict and displacement, while continuing work to build more resilient, peaceful, and productive communities. Over this period, through various programmes implemented through funding from USAID, GAC, UNPBF, EU, private donors and others Mercy Corps has built a strong team that has both institutional memory as well as best practice approaches in relation to peacebuilding, conflict prevention, economic development and sustainable and resilient agricultural practices.

At the core of Mercy Corps Mali’s peacebuilding approach is the belief that conflict prevention and resilience programming – supporting farmers, pastoralists and broader market-based economic development - are two sides of the same coin. Peacebuilding, conflict prevention and social cohesion programming can mitigate some degree of conflict, but on their own are often limited in scope and fail to address root causes of conflict. On the other hand, hard fought gains in economic development can be eroded overnight by the impact of violence, as entire communities become displaced and livelihoods shattered. In an environment as complex as Mali, increasingly characterized by a crowded and poorly coordinated field of localized mediation interventions, the integration of peacebuilding and resilience is not just an added-value, but a necessity.

Similarly, while a community-centered approach is important – and the long-standing presence of Mercy Corps resilience teams in the north reflects this – overly localized programs lack the scale and ambition to be truly impactful and sustainable. Market systems in Mali, having the potential to both erode or catalyse impact, depending on how they are harnessed, are all too often overlooked, leading resilience programmes to consist of a smattering of community-level livelihoods interventions that lead to limited impact. Programmes that connect the various local, regional and national level  offer the possibility of better approach to Mali’s longstanding livelihood challenges.

This approach underpins the BREAKWATER project, which aims to prevent the further spread of violent conflict in Central and Southern Mali. Funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) and operating from 01 January 2020 to 31 December 2023, it addresses contemporary and historical root causes of conflict in communities situated on the frontier between the relatively stable South and the most volatile parts of the Centre, while ensuring that conflicts which rise to the surface are peacefully mitigated through local systems wherever possible. The programme will work to overcome natural resource management challenges, the breakdown of inter-ethnic relations and traditional mechanisms for conflict resolution, economic drivers of conflict, and a broken social contract between citizens and the state. The programme’s goal is focused on increasing human security among the populations in these zones through the identification and successful resolution of widespread and crosscutting challenges to the survival, livelihood and dignity of people. BREAKWATER is being implemented by Mercy Corps, International Alert and Humanity & Inclusion, and will run for four years, reaching 60,912 beneficiaries/participants across 130 communities where the risk of the spread of violent conflict is greatest and where potential to build on positive local capacities provides opportunity for demonstrable impact.

Purpose / Project Description

To inform the BREAKWATER project, Mercy Corps aims to conduct a market systems assessment, likely focused on the livestock and agriculture market systems, to support program design and inform opportunities to integrate Market Systems Development (MSD) into conflict prevention programming to best create the systemic level change we aspire to. Given the core goal of the programme relates to increasing human security, this assignment and assessment will serve as the basis for understanding which  market systems have the highest potential for increasing incomes while supporting peacebuilding goals via mitigating the long-term economic drivers of conflict.

In particular, BREAKWATER’s market systems assessment is designed to support and inform the second outcome of the BREAKWATER program, “Improved individual, household and community capacity to offset economic and environmental drivers of human insecurity”. It will inform the application of Mercy Corps’ Making Markets Work in Crisis approach, a key component of our overall resilience-building approach in conflict-affected and protracted crises contexts. BREAKWATER will refine Outcome 2 based on the assessment and the resulting analysis during the inception phase (01 January to 30 September 2020). Given the challenging environment and ongoing humanitarian situation, we anticipate needing to sequence, layer and integrate some direct delivery mechanisms with facilitation tactics to support coping through local systems.

Outcome 2 of the BREAKWATER program has two mutually reinforcing outputs focused on supporting community-level agro-pastoral livelihoods and scaling and solidifying localized gains. To ensure that the primary livelihoods among target communities – which include agriculture, pastoralism and (for some) fishing – offer better yields and income in the face of environmental, climate and economic shocks, the market systems analysis will be closely linked with a natural resource management and governance assessment. Under the current design of the program, the team anticipates some market related activities may include, for example: (1) strengthening post-harvest value-addition through facilitating technical training for a small subset of producer groups, concentrating on commodities where producers are in a prime position to secure higher prices and markets for their production through processing and value-addition that can be done by the groups themselves; (2) supporting agricultural input enterprises (e.g. those who provide the seeds and tools) and processors/offtakers (those who purchase the final crop/vegetable/fruit/animal products) to provide services to producers and to buy from producers; and (3) making targeted investments to strengthen leverage points that promote market competitiveness, profitability and ability to scale of existing off-farm micro-enterprises in selected value chains.

The MSD assessment is designed to confirm or challenge the proposal’s assumptions and methodology by identifying constraints and opportunities to enable market systems to strengthen economic coping, facilitate market recovery, and increase livelihood opportunities for conflict-affected communities and identify approaches to facilitate local market recovery. The consultant will lead the assessment including assessment design, data collection and analysis, as well as a synthesis process to determine intervention points focused on improving income and food security for value-chains and markets with known implication to conflict dynamics. The consultant will be responsible for planning and implementation to produce a series of comprehensive reports for public dissemination.   

Consultant Objectives

The consultant will work in Mali during August and September 2020. S/he will be responsible for the overall design of the assessment, Mercy Corps team capacity building, assessment implementation, and production of the assessment reports.  S/he will closely work with the BREAKWATER Program Director, Director of Program and MEL Advisor as well as the Mercy Corps Technical Support Unit Specialists in Conflict, Livestock, Markets, Agriculture and Financial Services.

Key components of the assessment will include:

  • Collaborating with Mercy Corps’ Mali team and technical experts and using existing analysis to inform the selection of target market systems and appropriate selection criteria for the BREAKWATER program;
  • Assessing selected market systems including mapping the market systems structure, mapping the market actors and their linkages, and analysing how the market systems are functioning in relation to the vulnerable individuals and households the program is targeting by identifying the capacities, constraints and incentives;
  • Identifying a vision for the future functioning of the market in order to select interventions that will stimulate the changes the program wishes to see. This includes a “Who does, Who pays?” matrix

The anticipated methodology for the assessment is below but can be tweaked and adjusted based on conversations with the Mali team and MC technical experts:

The market assessment will include a variety of information sources:

  • Secondary data such as published reports from the government, donors, INGOs and other sources such as the World Bank and FEWS NET. This will include data from the other breakwater assessments completed in coordination with the market assessment.
  • Individual and group interviews with target group members, ensuring appropriate representation considering regional demographics.
  • Key informant interviews including relevant market actors (this may be input suppliers, processors, storage, transporters, extension officers, etc.), government stakeholders, formal and informal financial service providers, community and religious leaders

We envision that the market assessment will primarily use semi-structured interviews supported by interview guides and respondents will be selected in order to ensure a broad representation amongst relevant livelihood groups, market players, genders, ages, and household categories (vulnerability, displacement, etc.). Additional respondents and interviews will be added as and where important market linkages are identified during the assessment process. Private businesses, including financial service providers (FSPs), will be selected to include those more active in the relevant systems and geographies as well as those identified by target groups.  Snowball sampling will be used. This is all subject to discussion with the consultant however.

The assessment will also integrate gender carefully throughout design and implementation:

  • The team will determine appropriate gender targeting for interviews and FGDs, ensuring that for each type of actor targeted for an interview both male and female actors are included.
  • The team will also conduct women-only interviews and FGDs to ensure women have a safe space to provide their true thoughts and feelings which may not be possible in mixed-gender groups.
  • Questionnaires related to gender will be integrated into interview and FGD guides to understand the particular capacities, constraints and incentives of women in relation to the target markets. Gender related questions will be directed at both male and female actors.
  • The team will use existing Mercy Corps tools to understand the differences in male and female responsibilities as well as control and access to resources
  • The team will ensure there are female interviewers on the assessment team in the event women feel more comfortable speaking to other women or it is culturally inappropriate for men to interview women.
  • The team will also ensure that interviews with market actors are planned in locations and times that are suitable for women.


The consultant will build off of Mercy Corps’ in-house market systems development expertise to design and oversee the technical quality of the assessment. The consultant will work closely with one of Mercy Corps’ MSD advisors who sits on the agency’s  global Technical Support Unit, as well as the BREAKWATER Program Director and economics-focused Senior Program Officer. The consultant will lead this team to:

  • Conduct literature review that documents existing market analysis on selected sectors, as well as economic trends and risks within these sectors.
  • Confirm/adapt sector focus as needed during literature review and based on conversations with the MC Mali team.
  • Refine key questions for the assessment, building on the July 31 NRM, Conflict, Governance and Gender assessment results
  • To help prepare MC Mali team for data collection, conduct introductory workshop to MSD and market systems analysis in crisis contexts, building upon and improving Mercy Corps existing resources.
  • Develop plan for data collection and relevant KII/FGD guides, market mapping guides, and other relevant data collection tools. Advise on the selection of enumerators, if they are needed. Data collection will need to have a heavy qualitative focus, but may include rapid surveys, where needed to answer targeted questions. Data collection should include:
    • Market actor mapping in relevant geographies (for livestock, this should also include tracking livestock trade flows)
    • Profiling of the target group in each market system
    • Analysis of key supporting functions and rules/norms
    • Analysis of constraints, capacities, and incentives facing market actors that have impact on the target group
    • Analysis of how market actors prepare for and respond to risks (shocks/stresses)
    • Analysis of power in markets and the impact of social networks on the target groups’ ability to benefit from markets
    • If/as relevant profiling and discussion with market actors to determine partnership potential
    • Where interventions are likely to involve cash/voucher/goods transfer, advise on modality choices to be followed up by MC team following MC Cash Minimum Standards.
  • Provide training and coach to data collectors on how to conduct interviews with private sector actors, how to probe, sampling, and other data collection guidance. Provide training on tools.
  • Guide data collection activities with the Mali team, including:
    • Leading interviews/FGDs
    • Supporting and coaching MC team members to lead interviews/FGDs
    • Leading debrief sessions with MC team members and enumerators as relevant to ensure effective data capture and learning/iteration by the assessment team
  • Facilitate a synthesis workshop with MC team and other relevant data collectors to interpret findings, using analyzed data (see next bullet). Provide overview of intervention options and guide discussion on program strategy, considering the feasibility and risks of different options, and their potential for impact and learning.
  • Analyze collected data and synthesize with other data sources into market systems analysis reports for each sector that include:
    • A profile of the target group in each market system, including differences by geography, if relevant.
    • Descriptions of key supporting functions and rules/norms in each market system
    • Market actor maps (with different versions for specific geographies as needed) and table of actor descriptions covering core supply/demand, key supporting functions, and rules/norms, as well as profiles of potential partners broken down by geography
    • Analysis of key market constraints and risks, and how each market responds to shocks/stresses, broken down by geography
    • Analysis of how social and power dynamics affect market actor interactions and market power
    • Analysis of market actor incentives, capacities, and risk/shock management, broken down by geography
  • Within final assessment reports, provide prioritized response options based on analysis and discussion with teams that consider differences by geography and offer options based on different likely scenarios. Recommendations should include market facilitation options as well as modality choices where cash/vouchers/good distribution is recommended.

Consultancy Deliverables and Timeframe/Schedule

The consultancy is expected to begin in 1st of August and conclude by 15th September 2020.  Given the travel constraints of COVID-19, we would consider a remote-facilitation option.

The Consultant will report to: The BREAKWATER Program Director and Mercy Corps Mali Program Director with the reports and analysis shared with Team Lead | Markets -Technical Support Unit.

The Consultant will work closely with: The program managers, field technical specialists, and Markets and Livestock members of the Technical Support Unit.

The ideal candidate will be able to strongly integrate conflict into market dynamics, and also support the capacity building of our team. Fluency in french is essential.