Context Analysis Tool for Understanding Seed Systems in Fragile Contexts

By: Wilfred Ouko, Abby Love, Ted Holmquist, and Andrea Mottram (Mercy Corps) and Louise Sperling (SeedSystem) 

Seed systems in fragile states differ from seed systems in more stable environments. They need to function amid fluid situations and absorb the effects of market disruptions, displacement and other conflict features while enabling access to a diversity of crops and varieties to support vulnerable populations. When effectively intervening in fragile states, donors, humanitarian agencies and other stakeholders must approach seed-related activities differently than they would in more stable environments. This requires assessing and understanding the context and functioning of the seed system before implementing context-appropriate interventions that, at a minimum, do no harm and, where possible, contribute to peacebuilding initiatives.

Through an ISSD Africa collaboration, Mercy Corps together with SeedSystem have developed a Context Analysis Tool (CAT) to help implementers working in conflict-affected areas of fragile states quickly grasp the environment and circumstances in which seed systems function, and then identify practical entry points for selecting and designing seed interventions. 

Now that the tool has been drafted, the authors are looking for extension and program staff to pilot test it. Are you working in a conflict-affected area and willing to help refine an important new tool? Continue reading to learn more about the CAT and how you can get involved!

Photo credit: E. Millstein, Mercy Corps

CAT Objectives

The CAT provides humanitarian actors with an analysis process to understand seed systems in conflict settings. It aims to help implementers design effective interventions to support and develop these seed systems, while ensuring that farming community members’ needs drive the seed system strengthening, recovery, and development process. The objectives are three-fold:

  1. Analyze the conflict context – Understand how the conflict context affects or is affected by seed systems. At a minimum, stakeholder engagement processes need to be conflict-sensitive, and any subsequent interventions must ‘do no harm’;
  2. Analyze and strengthen seed systems – Identify those elements of seed systems that are more robust in conflict-affected areas and those that are disproportionately affected, and then support humanitarian actors to strengthen them in an efficient and targeted manner;
  3. Identify opportunities for seed system development that contributes to peace building efforts – Understand opportunities to link seed system programming to explicit peace building efforts in conflict areas of fragile states and identify the most effective solutions.

CAT Methodology

The CAT is a phased approach using tools and specific questions to understand the context in which seed systems function – considering the conflict characteristics, the seed system constraints, and the intricate relations between the two – and then identifying opportunities for interventions, including entry points to link seed system support to peacebuilding efforts. The process includes five steps that are separated into two phases.

Phase 1 focuses on the assessment activities, helping humanitarian actors understand:

  1. Patterns of the conflict itself (its roots, evolution, and current dimensions)
  2. The interface between seed systems and the conflict (broad changes, constraints and opportunities)
  3. The overview status of key seed system under the current, stressed situation

Phase 2 focuses on analysis of the assessment information to inform seed-related interventions:

  1. Programming guidance and a decision-making framework for working on seed systems in a given conflict context
  2. Potential entry points for jointly addressing the conflict and improving seed systems
Draft Context Analysis Tool methodology

Seeking Pilot Testers

The authors are looking for extension and program staff to pilot test the tool. Specifically, we are looking for teams who are: implementing or planning to implement a seed-related intervention in a conflict-affected (or recently post-conflict) area; willing and able to use the various tools in the CAT (i.e., both conflict-related and seed system-related tools); and able to provide detailed feedback on the tools.

If you are interested in participating as a tester, please contact Wilfred Ouko at We welcome testers from various geographies and programs.