Understanding rural markets in Afghanistan

Briefing and workign papers on resaerch findings on Afghan agricultural commodity markets and rural and urban labour markets


This briefing paper draws on findings from research on Afghan agricultural commodity markets and rural and urban labour markets. The studies explored how people navigate and negotiate their economic life. They were based on market system and value chain approaches while informed by concepts from economic sociology. These emphasise the socially oriented nature of economic action and the pervasive role of power in markets.

5 case studies were undertaken: 2 on rural commodity markets of onion and saffron in Nangarhar and Herat, one on rural labour markets in Herat and 2 on urban self-employment in Kandahar and Kabul. The research has been part of a multi scale study investigating household livelihood trajectories and institutional processes at village and provincial level.

This brief presents a synthetic account of policy approaches to Afghan markets and actual market practices. It then discusses key findings from field case studies and the implications of these for future analytical approaches to understanding markets in conflict and programmatic practice.”

This working paper also draws on 5 case studies from the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium and its partners, and other primary and secondary evidence, to review current understanding of agricultural commodity and rural labour markets in Afghanistan, and explore the pervasive social regulations that structure them.

Despite some limited commercialisation, the country’s rural economy remains in poor health. Agricultural policy has focused on production, value-chain efficiencies and price, as well as abstract projections of potential productivity changes, growth and job creation.

In order to better understand how external interventions can promote growth and ensure better distributional outcomes, we must:

  1. consider how domestic production and demand can be stimulated;
  2. recognise commodity markets as complex systems
  3. move beyond simplistic models of analysis and policy-making that bear little relation to how markets operate in practice;
  4. learn lessons from approaches to analysing the opium poppy market;
  5. broaden our understanding of the multiple dimensions of risk that the free-market model does not consider, including access to assets and uncertain institutional environments;
  6. recognise the political and social structure of markets in Afghanistan, in order to address the systemic changes that are needed to enable economic growth.

This research is part of the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium (SLRC) programme


  • Minoia, G. and Pain, A. (2017) Understanding rural markets in Afghanistan. Briefing 27. London: Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium.

  • Minoia, G. and Pain, A. (2017) Understanding rural markets in Afghanistan. Working paper 58. London: Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium.

Published 31 July 2017