Activity 1: Interviews with international and Cambodian extensionists

Responsible Team Leader: Paula Satizábal


The extension of agricultural technologies has long been advocated as a pathway to improved farmer livelihoods and rural development. This Activity uses a political ecology lens to examine the role played by social relations in agricultural extension projects in Cambodia and globally (Kelly 2011; Milne & Mahanty 2015). We aim to review the political economy of agrarian change in Northwest Cambodia analysing historical agrarian transitions to understand the power relations shaping farming practices and land use (Diepart & Sem 2018; Green 2020). Drawing on this context we will engage with extensionists (agricultural scientists, government agencies, commercial vendors, and the development sector actors), to study the role played by social relations in enabling or disabling extension practices. We interrogate how the social relations fostered by certain actors and processes (i.e., missing extensionists) have been included in the extension discourse. In doing this, we seek to contrast the experiences and understandings from individuals and organisations working in the public and private agricultural sector in Cambodia and those working in other countries around the globe.

In the extension literature, there are hints of these ‘missing extensionists’ and their importance, though we have been unable to locate concerted effort to uncover and analyse such actors as central to extension. There is much advocacy for individuals framed as ‘champions’ or enablers but relatively little exploration of blockers or inhibitors. For example, Turner et al. (2017) explain that: “One individual in (Sustainable Land Use Initiative) SLUI was identified as a project champion; ‘a force of nature and incredible enthusiasm, and doesn’t respond well to ‘no’’. This project champion brought people on board to deliver SLUI by forming relationships, challenging perceptions and misbeliefs about sustainable land management, and creating enthusiasm for the programme” (Turner et al., 2017, p. 518). Arising from the citation (above) what are the characteristics of this extensionist beyond ‘enthusiastic’, including whether their impacts are entirely or always positive. There is much advocacy for ‘champions’ but relatively little exploration of blockers or inhibitors. Many questions are left unanswered, including: i) who are these missing extensionists (are they paid project partners or volunteers?); ii) how are they benefiting from their efforts; iii) what are their impacts on success relative to other project impacts? More broadly, questions involving, how they approach and understand agricultural extension; how is their impact cutting across different groups of farmers; and how have their efforts persisted beyond the life of a given project.

There is good reason to hypothesise that significant labour is being devoted to the success and obstruction of agricultural extension by missing extensionists, and that a concerted analysis may uncover key themes, activities, techniques, motivations, and framings, perhaps uncovering consistent approaches that result in success and/or failure of projects. The effort to examine the role of social relations in agricultural extension is that of humanising extension, highlighting the importance of people, place, and power in supporting farmers in the context of changing and dynamic agrarian realities.

Sub-Research Questions

RQ1.1: ​​How has the political economy of agrarian change intersected with agricultural extension interventions in Northwest Cambodia ?

RQ1.2: ​​What is known about social relations in the context of behaviour change, including consideration within the agrarian change literature?

RQ1.3: How do extensionists in Cambodia and in other places around the world understand farmers’ social relations?

RQ1.4: How are the social relations of key individuals and/or processes included in agricultural extension discourses and practices in the Northwest of Cambodia?

Are there key individuals and their social relations missing from the extension discourse, including description of key actors or processes by world leading extensionists reflecting on past projects?

Approaches (Methods)

  • Literature review of agrarian change and social relations in Northwest Cambodia
  • Semistructured interviews with individuals and organisations involved in the agricultural sector in Northwest Cambodia. 
  • Semistructured interviews with global leaders on the topic of agricultural extension exploring ‘the missing extensionists’.