Provocation 3: Making markets work for the poor - contents and discontents

The third in a series of six seminars on markets and small-scale farmers took place in Paris, France on 30 March 2011.

Article, 09 March 2011

View video from the event in English or French

Part 1. (1.16.41)

Part 2. is available in French

Development policymakers and practitioners are turning to markets to alleviate poverty. The idea is that well functioning markets that integrate poor people as consumers, producers and workers will lead to economic development, growth and prosperity. But do linear interventions to ‘make markets work for the poor’ work for all? There is increasing evidence that while they may help some small-scale farmers, the most vulnerable are often still left out in the cold.

This seminar brought together policymakers, academics and practitioners working at the interface between small-scale production, markets and development to share their insights into the contents and discontents of approaches to make markets work for the poor.

It aimed to address the following:

  • Do market-based approaches expose small-scale producers to high risk or do they help to address them?
  • Do they sufficiently address food and land tenure security as pre-conditions for inclusive business?
  • Do they assume too much of producers’ willingness and capacity to get ‘organised’? Do they promote new ways of collective marketing?
  • Can market-based approaches (often focused on single products) be integrated with local development efforts that emphasise the many functions of small-scale farming?


  • Roger Blein, expert in agricultural and food policies, Bureau Issala, France
  • Bala Sanou, researcher sustainable economic development of Royal Tropical Institute (KIT), Burkina Faso
  • Harm van Oudenhoven, Coordinator of the Tropical Commodity Coalition, The Netherlands
  • Olivier Renard, Institut de Recherche et d’Application des Méthodes de développement, France

Chair: Camilla Toulmin, Director, International Institute for Environment and Development

This provocation seminar was hosted by our partners: the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) and Institut de Recherche et d’Application des Méthodes de développement (IRAM).

Provocations series

Initiated by the IIED/Hivos Knowledge Programme, Small Producer Agency in the Globalised Market, the ‘provocations’ series challenge conventional wisdom on how to include smallholders in markets and bring fresh perspectives to the discussion on what works and why