Activity 5: Learning from local agricultural success

Responsible Team Leader: Andrew McGregor

Listen to an interview with Associate Professor Andrew McGregor about the progress, key learnings and next steps for Activity 5.

We are hoping to find out about all the different components of what makes a farm successful. All the social components, all the more-than-human components which contribute to the success of the farm“.

Associate Professor Andrew McGregor


Through the previous activities the project will generate data that will be used to identify up to 50 households that villagers consider to be successful in their agricultural practices. The aim of Activity 5 is to identify what success looks like within case study villages and how particular households have become successful. The activity focuses on the agency of households to pursue success through enabling social relations (e.g., relations that enable access to markets and equipment; neighbours who exchange labour during harvest; flows of remittances) and avoid disabling ones. 

Ethnographic research techniques informed by ABCD (Ennis & West 2010; Mathie & Cunningham 2003, 2005) and by social capitals research (Hawkins & Maurer 2010; Poortinga 2006) (i.e., bonding, bridging, linking) will be used to analyse the relations, practices, and institutions that farmers draw upon when successfully pursuing on-farm practice change. A range of qualitative methods will be utilised, oriented at providing an in-depth understanding of what contributes to agricultural success in the case study villages. 

Oral history methods will be used to identify key moments that have enabled farmers to get ahead, including any historical encounters with agricultural extension initiatives, as well as non-agricultural decisions, such as temporary migration to urban centres. Social network analysis will be conducted to identify the influence that currently existing social and material relations have upon success, such as childcare or access to the internet, as well as the influence successful households may be having upon others. In depth field walks and participant observation will also be conducted with successful farmers to discuss and observe the multiple human and non-human influences on the success of different fields, how adverse challenges are addressed, as well as recent or anticipated practice changes (e.g. switching from cassava to fruit trees).

The interviews will identify the strategies employed by farmers to reduce or avoid disabling social relations and/or strengthen or expand enabling relations. The findings will cross-reference types of relations with gender, age, class, and on-farm practices (i.e., Activity 2). The analyses of relations will, therefore, be able to identify the capacities and opportunities of different types of households and individuals who are positioned for successful on-farm practice change and what support or change may be required to assist others.

Sub-Research Questions

RQ5.1: How do local communities perceive agricultural success?  Which households are perceived to be successful and why?

RQ5.2: What enables agricultural success in the local context?  What historical moments, social relations and personal and material resources have enabled some households to become successful in comparison with others?

RQ5.3: What does agricultural success look like in practice?  What are the characteristics of successful agricultural practice and what everyday work is required to steer human and non-human processes oriented towards particular outcomes. How are challenges to these outcomes managed and resolved by successful farmers?   

RQ5.4: How do household demographics influence success?  Who participates in successful practices and what enables them to do so?  How can barriers associated with social characteristics such as gender, age, class and ethnicity be overcome?

RQ5.5: How do material conditions shape success?  How do fields, seeds, equipment and spatial locations (e.g. distance to roads) shape how success is experienced and understood?

RQ5.6: What types of actors have the greatest influence on farmer decisions to undertake practice change (including institutions involved in agricultural extension)?  How do successful farmers go on to affect the practices of other farmers?

Approaches (Methods)

  • Multiple in-depth interviews with female and male heads of household and family members 
  • Oral histories
  • Social network analysis
  • Farmer field walks and participant observation
  • Analysis of data produced in earlier Activities (e.g. definitions of success)

Watch a presentation from Associate Professor Andrew McGregor about the aims, research questions and approaches of Activity 5.