Farmers raising sheep on South Africa's communal lands have in some cases been assisted to access the international wool market; this success can be analysed from the perspective of making markets work for the poor. This paper starts off by briefly sketching the international research on making markets work for the poor. In the case of the woolgrowers, the following aspects are identified as pivotal factors in ensuring adequate market access for the poor: understanding how the markets work and eliminating the barriers; appropriate technical support; institutional development; the role of infrastructure; credit access; an appropriate role for large enterprises; technical skills; and building on existing activities, as well as the support of local assets. A number of stumbling blocks are also identified, namely the financing method; cost benefits; informality; property rights and local customs. The principles in the literature are assessed by means of examples from the South African case study.