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

Responsible Team Leader: Brian Cook

Listen to an interview with Associate Professor Brian Cook about the progress, key learnings and next steps for Activity 6.

“We aim to have as direct a link between the research and practice as possible”.

Associate Professor Brian Cook


Following identification of farmer assets and aspirations (Activity 4) and analysis of farmers’ social relations (Activity 5), Activity 6 will collaborate directly with farmers, creating opportunities for willing farmers to expand their relations with enabling individuals or organisations. Activity 6 accepts that smallholders are knowledgeable, capable, and inhibited by disabling social relations. Farmers are able to overcome the disabling relations that presently limit their development opportunities with mutual support, demonstration of success by other farmers, or direct support from the research team or partners, farmers’ ingenuity, and capacities. Responsiveness towards farmer participation is central to development and demonstration of a viable, social model of extension (i.e., the overarching aim of the project). Importantly, the range of farmer-chosen strategies to increase enabling relations or overcome disabling relations will only be known to the farmers and will likely involve relations that extend beyond the agricultural sector, necessitating the longitudinal analyses of household knowledge and practices (Activity 2), the wide range of partner organisations involved in the project (i.e., annual workshop held at NUBB), and responsiveness towards farmer knowledge-practices.

Operationally, Activity 6 will undertake a series of collaborations with farmers: we will facilitate individual farmers or groups of farmers to identify preferred agricultural practices and the enabling social relations needed to successfully and lastingly implement change. While many of the farmer-led practices may extend beyond the traditional boundaries of the agricultural sector, the project will maintain focus on household impacts, and especially on how practice changes affect household members, agricultural production, and land use. In this way, the project will connect how smallholders experience agrarian change in the context of wider social processes, thereby connecting classic ‘development studies’ with analyses of agrarian change and farmer decision making.

The sessions with farmers will be facilitated by PRD, who will help to identify the enabling and disabling relations pertaining to farmer-chosen issues and the implementation of pathway(s) for practice change (Activity 4 & 5). These sessions will create conditions for farmer-led decision making (i.e., community economies); in cases where farmers require capital, expert advice, demonstration by agricultural experts, or experience to implement practice change, the project will dedicate funds to supporting these initiatives. During these farmer-led discussions – which will take place in villages, at the CCBAC, or move between locations – should farmer(s) wish, they will have the opportunity to enlist supportive individuals, service providers, and organisations to provide advice, demonstrations, or respond to local needs (e.g., consult with NGOs, discuss loans with microcredit organisations, enlist agricultural experts to assess field conditions, rent machinery to overcome lack of labour). 

Initially, project partners will be available to farmers, but the project will remain open to expanding these connections in response to farmer initiatives. Throughout these multi-year collaborations (i.e., beginning with the baseline survey in year 1 through to evaluation of impact in year 5), farmers will have access to PRD for support and advice, with annual engagements undertaken by the research team to analyse changes to knowledge and on-farm practices. This monitoring will identify how alterations to social relations influence on-farm practice change, as well as establish general guidelines for successfully supporting farmer(s) as they establish or broaden the enabling social relations (or avoid disabling relations) needed to implement successful on-farm practice change.

Sub-Research Questions 

RQ6.1: How do different groups of farmers respond to different forms of support for their preferred on-farm practice change?

RQ6.2: How do the individuals or organisations attempting to support farmers understand farmer needs and contribute to farmer practices and/or practice change?

RQ6.3: What social relations do farmers desire that cannot be supplied by participating individuals and organisations?

RQ6.4: How do farmers and supporting organisations understand the commercial sector, with emphasis on micro-credit and indebtedness?

Approaches (Methods)

  • Knowledge exchanges and facilitated discussions amongst farmers and supporting individuals and organisations (with PRD oversight) at the CCBAC or in villages
  • Interviews with supporting individuals and organisations
  • Interviews with participating farmers

Watch a presentation from Associate Professor Brian Cook about the aims, research questions and approaches of Activity 6.