4.1.2. Common Constraints in Conflict-Affected Contexts


Links between production centers and markets are often disrupted by road blocks, mined roads and other physical hazards to travel and commerce. Other, non-physical barriers that can disrupt transportation networks include high fuel costs and lack of appropriate vehicles or access to certain areas. Because transport plays an essential support function in nearly all value chains, these disruptions seriously undermine the efficiency of the chain and the effectiveness of programs designed to support the chain.


Roads, bridges, ports and warehousing also play an essential role in supporting value chains. In conflict contexts, infrastructure resources may be held by one party to the conflict, destroyed during fighting, or inaccessible to due to fighting in the vicinity. Program designers should design activities that are flexible and can work with or around infrastructure resources that may be cut off from portions of the value chain and they also must recognize the need to rebuild infrastructure destroyed during the conflict.


Security is critically important for people, transportation and infrastructure. An example of an innovative, community-based solution to security issues can be found in Northern Uganda’s IDP camps where community members hired security personnel (often providing little more than a daily meal) to escort farmers to their fields. These types of solutions keep communities functioning during a conflict and are most common in long-standing conflicts where people have time to adapt their day-to-day lives to the realities of conflict.[1]

Rapidly changing policy environments

This is common in conflict situations as new governing bodies take responsibility for enacting and enforcing policies, rebuilding infrastructure and undertaking other essential government functions. A new government may change the rules governing the business environment, often without warning. The same may be true if the existing government feels threatened by the direction the conflict is taking or the perceived intent of particular groups. Such changes can significantly impact the design and implementation of value chain programs. They also can seriously affect ongoing programs that may be unaware of alternative programming choices that could counter the adverse policy changes. The greater the investment in a value chain, the more important it is for project designers and implementers to analyze and understand the risks of, and potential solutions to, changing policies.

Shifting power relationships

While the policy environment provides rules by which actors in a chain should operate, power dictates how they relate to one other and use those policies. It is not uncommon in conflict situations for powerful chain players to strictly apply outdated regulations, or to apply them inconsistently, in order to harass a particular group. Value chains contain inherent power structures which can be upset in conflict contexts, usually to the detriment of everyone in the chain.

Weak institutions of market oversight

One of the constraints to a functioning market is the absence or weakness of institutions that enforce compliance of agreed rules equally among all market participants. Creating or rebuilding these institutions to achieve a level playing field for all market participants is one of the key post-conflict tasks. This will mean working with private sector associations, regulatory agencies, and law enforcement to ensure an environment for economic activity that is facilitative, not overly burdensome, and is perceived as fair by all market participants.[2]

Lack of trust

Trust between individuals and groups is often severely disrupted in conflict-affected contexts. This can lead to reluctance to cooperate, engage in business transactions or invest in relationships. It is essential for value chain development practitioners to be aware of how lack of trust affects their proposed interventions and to build trusting relationships through dialogue and repeated transactions.

Short time horizons

Donors focused on emergencies generally want to fund projects that can be completed and considered successful in a limited time frame. However, developing value chains, particularly those involving the agriculture sector, is complex, often involving a great many challenges and can take years to have the long-term impact donors expect to see from these kinds of efforts.


  1. USAID, Cotton Value Chain Case Study for Northern Uganda
  2. See A Guide to Economic Growth in Post-Conflict Countries for further discussion of these points.