Issue 45 - Article 16

Analysing market systems in emergencies: the EMMA Toolkit

January 22, 2010
Karri Goeldner Byrne, International Rescue Committee, and Mike Albu, Practical Action

In nearly every country facing a crisis, rumours abound of relief programmes that distort local markets, especially food markets, discouraging local farmers, displacing traders and prolonging dependence on outside assistance. Many agencies have started using cash-based initiatives, but still worry about the harm these programmes might cause. All of these problems reflect the difficulty of adequately understanding the market-systems that people affected by emergencies depend upon for their income, livelihoods and food, or to meet basic needs. Until recently, market analysis was seen as a specialist and time-consuming activity which could not be a high priority in emergency situations. The Emergency Market Mapping and Analysis Toolkit – EMMA – changes that.


Development of the Toolkit

The greatest obstacle to adequate economic analysis is time: in an emergency, urgent needs have to be addressed and there is no time for complex or lengthy exercises. In 2007, Oxfam and the International Rescue Committee joined forces to address the problem, with the support of Practical Action. The result of this collaboration was EMMA.

The EMMA began after a desk review in 2007 to determine if tools were already available. This confirmed that, in order to get the right balance between economic rigour and speed and ease of use, it would be necessary to create something that was largely original. After a development phase, the Toolkit was piloted in four countries: Kenya in April 2008 (after election violence), Myanmar in July 2008 (following Cyclone Nargis), Haiti in October 2008 (after hurricanes Gustav, Hanna and Ike) and Pakistan in February 2009 (following large-scale IDP movements). After each pilot the Toolkit was substantially revised. It was completed in August, and will be published in January 2010. The EMMA development team has also designed an induction course and training materials. Initial induction courses have involved 15 organisations. Future training events will be offered in January and February 2010, in Jordan and Indonesia respectively, with more planned throughout 2010.


What it is

EMMA was designed with the idea that, even in the immediate aftermath of an emergency, there is sufficient time to develop a ‘good enough’ understanding of market-systems. EMMA tools are adaptable, rough-and-ready, speed-oriented processes designed to reflect the information constraints and urgency of decision-making required in the first few weeks of a sudden-onset emergency. EMMA enables emergency practitioners with no economic background to do a quick analysis of the markets most critical to the emergency-affected population. Most importantly, EMMA provides outputs that have a strong visual impact, making it easy for decision-makers to quickly understand the recommendations of the analysis.



What do we mean when we talk about a ‘market-system’? In essence, a market-system is any network of producers, suppliers, processors, traders and buyers involved in producing, exchanging and consuming a particular item or service. Such networks depend to some degree on supporting infrastructure, on input providers and auxiliary services. They also operate within a particular environment determined by the laws, rules and behavioural norms of the specific situation. The market-system includes all three components.

 While humanitarian practitioners often focus attention exclusively on their intended beneficiaries, those beneficiaries are invariably engaged with, and depend on, market-systems, either to supply goods or to provide income. Most importantly, the health or performance of critical market-systems can be essential to emergency response and recovery efforts.

The rationale for EMMA is that a better understanding of critical market-systems in an emergency enables humanitarian agencies to consider a broader range of responses. The results of using EMMA therefore are:

  • humanitarian resources are used more efficiently;
  • there is less risk of prolonged dependency on outside assistance; and
  • economic recovery is encouraged.

How it works

Although the EMMA Toolkit does not provide a rigid blueprint for undertaking market analysis, it can be broken down into ten logical and broadly sequential steps, as shown in Table 2.

These steps gradually enable the user to weave together three different strands: gap analysis, which looks at people’s needs; market analysis, which looks at market-system capabilities; and response analysis, which looks at options for humanitarian action. Recognising the challenges of working in complex and multilingual environments, the Toolkit guides the user in developing and using visual tools such as market maps, seasonal calendars and response matrices that can help programme staff, managers and donors to quickly process information and inform decision-making.

emma-table-1 001
Click here to view a larger image


Advocates of market analysis in emergency situations still face a number of challenges:

  • Winning the argument – Providing an analysis of critical market-systems in emergencies is only the first step. How can we ensure that the findings and recommendations have some influence over operational decision-making? EMMA encourages the use of highly visual ‘market maps’ to represent and convey the results of analysis to busy decision-makers, managers and donors.
  • Coping with complexity – For some organisations, realigning limited resources to include market-systems analysis in emergency assessments will be challenging. How can this additional facet of programme design be included in the analysis of very diverse and often complex situations?
  • Building capacity for EMMA – As the analysis of complex systems cannot be reduced to checklists and step-by-step processes, the team developing EMMA is following a strategy of cultivating EMMA Leaders: people with the capacity to develop and share the ‘art’ of doing EMMA throughout the humanitarian community. Plans are being developed for training courses and online resources, to be available in 2010–2011.
  • Coordination among agencies – EMMA will be most valuable if agencies work together in the field to coordinate and share market-systems analysis. Without this, there is a risk that good programmes will be undermined by poorly designed ones. NGO s must take on the responsibility of designing market-sensitive programmes that support recovery.


EMMA is a powerful new tool for incorporating a markets and economic perspective into emergency programming. It is designed so that non-economic specialists can use it in emergency situations, and therefore is a rough-and-ready, speed-oriented tool, designed to complement other emergency assessments. Its scope is broad – EMMA may be relevant to food security, emergency needs and income and livelihoods recovery, but it encourages emergency response planners to think beyond the crisis, and make the most of the opportunities and issues identified in the emergency phase to ensure that the right precedents are set in the early stages of the response.

Added value: a view from IRC in Pakistan

During the Pakistan pilot, the EMMA Toolkit was used to assess the effect of the IDP crisis on local markets in Peshawar, to inform programming with market-oriented data. Based on the EMMA findings, the IRC developed a livelihood project that sought to reduce household expenditure on firewood, which was later funded by OFDA.

 According to the IRC team, EMMA added value to the analysis and design of the livelihood project in several ways:

  • EMMA includes simple tools that non-technical staff can easily use to collect relevant market information. Before being introduced to EMMA, teams had very little experience with collecting this type of economic/livelihood information from the field. This data presented a baseline for programming, making the project more data-driven.
  • EMMA broadens approaches to recovery work. Through the use of the market maps it helped the team to better visualise multiple points of entry, when the natural tendency is to go to the end-user/beneficiary.
  • Going through the EMMA steps requires staff to put beneficiaries within the context of a market. By not exclusively looking at the need, the team understood much more about a product or critical market, and its constraints.
  • EMMA can define market-related indicators, which can then be included in the logframe (programme strategy) and monitored using the EMMA tools.
  • When used with the household economic profile, which shows how much people spent on household items before and after the emergency, EMMA can define indicators that characterise the relationship between markets and households.
  • Humanitarian responses to crises have become more inventive and nuanced, allowing NGOs to break away from the simple dichotomy of in-kind or cash distributions. EMMA provides tools to support the development of innovative responses based on market realities.
  • The ‘income’ market exercise presented more challenges to the team as compared to ‘supply’, demanding a shift from focusing on the material needs of IDPs to how best to support them to generate income. The development team finally selected interventions that would both address a need and also lead to savings and therefore income generation. The inter-relationship between markets, supply and income guided the intervention selection process.

Building on this experience, IRC Pakistan conducted additional EMMA analyses for the livestock and daily labour markets in IDP camps, to help inform future programming.

Karri Goeldner Byrne is Director of the Economic Recovery and Development Technical Unit, IRC. Mike Albu is International Projects Manager, Markets and Livelihoods Programme, Practical Action. Online resources will be available in 2010 at


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