Services‎ > ‎Case Studies‎ > ‎

A Market Approach for Delivering Extension Services to Smallholder Farmers in Southeast Asia

Abram Bicksler and Rick Burnette, ECHO Asia Impact Center; Ricky Bates, Penn State University

Concept and Justification:

Many smallholder farmers in Southeast Asia do not have the support of traditional extension or agricultural advisory services. For a variety of reasons, including conflict, political instability, and limited public funding, governments and universities may not have a functioning system in place to train farmers, transfer technology, and build human and social capital. In many locations, poor farmers simply do not have access to existing extension services due to low income and/or the remoteness of their farm. These small farm enterprises face a wide range of constraints that limit productivity and profitability, including a lack of  agricultural knowledge, good quality inputs, and access to markets.  There is growing recognition that markets have become the primary driver for agricultural development in several Southeast Asian countries, such as Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar. Markets can have a powerful positive impact on the lives of the rural poor. A growing body of evidence shows that the most successful rural households-those who have overcome abject poverty-are those who participate more fully in markets by purchasing more inputs, making effective use of technical knowledge and market information, and developing stable linkages to markets.

Certain Non-Profit Organizations (NGOs), understanding this dynamic, have developed market-based extension approaches to create opportunities for rural poor farmers. Proximity Designs (Yangon, Myanmar) and IDE Cambodia (Phnom Penh, Cambodia) use micro-enterprises to provide agricultural support services, helping farmers to become more integrated with markets and increase their agricultural incomes.

Proximity Designs is an enterprise helping rural families out of poverty in Myanmar. They design and market a range of affordable products and services that smallholder farmers purchase and use to increase their incomes. Proximity distributes its products and training services through a nationwide distribution network of private sector agro-dealers and independent village-level agents. Farm advisory services that Proximity offers clients feature training in selected low-cost, simple agricultural practices that increase yields and protect farmers against losses caused by pests, diseases and overuse of pesticides. In this capacity, Proximity agents are not only selling products to help farmers meet market demand, but also providing extension support to the food production sector. Income derived from the sale of products and services, such as micro-irrigation supplies, supports and motivates village-level agents and helps maintain the long-term sustainability of the organization.

IDE Cambodia helps create conditions that enable the rural poor to become successful market participants. Concepts and practices usually associated with private business and formal extension systems are applied to the problem of poverty. IDE helps farmers identify market opportunities that can be exploited by poor people, develops products and services that help the poor to generate income, and conducts social marketing campaigns to raise awareness and generate demand for pro-poor products and services. Smallholder capacity building and appropriate technology transfer are fundamental components of IDE Cambodia’s success in alleviating rural poverty.


A thorough analysis of these two NGO’s will provide a framework for understanding the opportunities, advantages, and/or shortcomings of this approach for delivering extension services in resource-poor settings.

The objectives of the proposed case study development are: 1) Review and document the experiences, knowledge gained and lessons learned from these two NGO’s, 2) Identify and analyze strengths and best practices from each NGO, in order to make recommendations for applying similar approaches to future projects and locations, and 3) Develop a full case study detailing the findings.

Key Personnel:

  • Mr. Richard Ronald Burnette, Director of the ECHO Asia Impact Center, Chiang Mai, Thailand 
  • Dr. Abram Bicksler, Director of Sustainability Research and Instructor, ISDSI; EAIC Technical Advisor and Research Coordinator, Chiang Mai, Thailand 
  • Dr. Ricky Bates, Associate Professor, Pennsylvania State University; EAIC Technical Advisor, Chiang Mai, Thailand