Next generation agricultural extension: social relations for practice change

Research Problem
Research Questions and Activities


The extension of agricultural technologies has long been advocated as a pathway to improved smallholder farmer livelihoods and rural development. However, agricultural extension based on the provision of information, technology and credit (the ‘provisionist’ model) does not necessarily lead to sustainable change.

The aim of the project is to reconceptualise agricultural extension as social relations and develop a social model of agricultural extension (also referred to as a more ‘humanised’ model) and evaluate this against the more dominant, provisionist model to support better outcomes in terms of wellbeing for smallholder farmers in Northwest Cambodia. It is hoped that the knowledge generated through this project can be applied to agricultural extension practices and policies elsewhere in Cambodia and more widely.

This 6-year, multidisciplinary research-for-development collaboration began in 2021 and involves researchers and practitioners in Cambodia and Australia, led by the University of Melbourne and funded by the Australian Centre for international Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

Research Problem

The extension of agricultural technologies has long been advocated as a pathway to improved farmer livelihoods and rural development. However, after decades of limited impact on farmer adoption, poverty alleviation, and wellbeing, an innovative model (defined as the underlying principles) and associated methods remain needed.

Many explanations exist for the lack of lasting change, but the most plausible explanation is that the social relations in which new practices must exist are left unchanged. The provision of agricultural technologies, information, and capital (the ‘provisionist’ model of agricultural extension) does not overcome powerful social relations. Enabling social relations are required to implement successful and lasting improvement of agricultural practices and a ‘relational’ model that puts social relations at the heart of agricultural extension is needed.

Research Questions and Activities

The overarching research question guiding this project is: which forms of agricultural extension contribute to lasting practice change able to support households and communities to create sustainable livelihoods that meet the needs and aspirations of farmers in complex social, political, and ecological contexts (i.e., a good life)?

In order to produce an innovative model of agricultural extension founded on social relations, this project will analyse which models and methods of extension are most effective with different types of smallholders in Northwest Cambodia.

The 6-year project is divided into seven activities:

Activity 1: Interviews with international and Cambodian extensionists

Activity 2: Census of farmer households 

Activity 3: Field crop survey and cropcheck

Activity 4: Mapping livelihood ecologies for farming households

Activity 5: Learning from local agricultural success

Activity 6: Directly expand farmers’ social relations in order to increase opportunities and enable farmer-chosen agrarian change

Activity 7: Impact assessment


The research is located in 5 communes in Battambang and Pailin Provinces in Northwest Cambodia:

  • Bay Damram
  • Kampong Prieng
  • Ta Sanh
  • Ou Ta Vu
  • Stueng Kach


Dr. Andrew McGregor
Co-investigator responsible for analysis of system change, Macquarie University
Dr. Caitlin Finlayson
Research Fellow responsible for project management and knowledge mobilisation, University of Melbourne
Dr. Ariane Utomo
Co-investigator leading household baseline survey, University of Melbourne
Dr. Brian Cook
Project Leader, University of Melbourne
Dr. Katharine McKinnon
Co-investigator responsible for community economies, University of Canberra
Sokunthea Nuon
Co-investigator responsible for farmer household data collection, Partners for Rural Development
Dr. Van Touch
In-Country leader responsible for in-country organisation and partner relations, University of Melbourne
Florent Tivet
Co-investigator, responsible for on-farm demonstrations, French Agricultural Research Center for Development (CIRAD)
Dr. Nicholas Harrigan 
Co-investigator responsible for impact assessment, Macquarie University
Manika Yim
Co-investigator responsible for project finance, Partners for Rural Development
Dr. Pao Srean
Co-investigator responsible for analysis of on-farm practices and partner relations, National University of Battambang
Dr. Thong Tran
Research Fellow, University of Melbourne
Sophanara Phan
Agricultural scientist, Battambang and Pailin Department of Agriculture
Iean Russell
Specialist Advisor
Bunnarath Som
Research Project Officer
Chariya Korn
Research Project Officer
Lita Mom
Research Project Officer
Saroeut Yong
Research Project Officer
Sao Chen
Research Project Officer
Sophea Yous
Research Project Officer
Pherom Song
Research Project Officer
Sinuon Chhun
Research Project Officer