Innovating for Rural Development: The case of Danish Agricultural Extension

PhD defence

Dorthe Christensen


Whereas the primary challenge for agriculture after World War II was improving food security by increasing productivity, the challenges faced by today’s agriculture are more complex and diverse. In this context it is interesting to investigate Danish agricultural extension. Firstly, the more complex and diverse a situation that farmers have to deal with, the more support farmers may need. Secondly, agricultural extension is important to Danish farmers, pointing to a significant arena for learning and change. Thirdly, privatizing agricultural extension (in Denmark since 1994) should not be seen as a permanent panacea, but be reconsidered in the light of new agricultural and societal challenges.

The overall objective of this PhD thesis is to explore the capacity of privatized Danish agricultural extension to handle contemporary agricultural challenges and related innovation support needs so as to point to critical aspects of concern to research and policy makers, and to Danish agricultural extension. In total three papers deal with the overall objective, each from a different perspective. The papers examine the capacity of agricultural extension at consultant level, project level and management level, respectively. Rural development was chosen as the overall case for the contemporary agricultural challenges. Further, an interactive research approach was applied, comprising four different case studies, extensive qualitative case study evidence and hermeneutic interpretation as an analytical strategy. Paper 1 reports on, and critically examines, the entrance of consultants with rural development functions in Danish agricultural extension agencies. Paper 2 seeks to understand how multiple rural actor projects driven by Danish agricultural extension serve to generate new social interactions, by exploring the perspective of the participants; and the paper also seeks to understand possible constraining or supportive extension aspects at play. Paper 3 examines how the apparent change effort: ‘rural development service’ is reflected in the management strategies of individual agricultural extension agencies in Denmark. All papers show that financial structural aspects critically affect the capacity of privatized Danish agricultural extension to handle contemporary agricultural challenges and related innovation support needs.

The most significant conclusion from this PhD thesis is that policies, agricultural research and extension should pay attention to these financial structural aspects, since they regulate the extent of ‘public good extension services’ like rural development services and ‘innovation intermediation’ in Danish agricultural extension agencies. The capacity differs among the individual agencies and among individual agents. There are agencies that financially invest in rural development service, including in innovation intermediation. On the other hand, there are agencies where the presence of rural development service is merely as a formal structure, possibly to signal conformity with new tendencies. Supportive financial structures in extension agencies extend the range of innovation intermediary roles taken by individual extension agents, and the overall performance of such agents. However, strong professional identity as innovation intermediary also plays a role in that. Finally, ‘urban impact’ positively affects extension capacity.

Principal Supervisor

Associate professor Tove Enggrob Boon, Department of Food and Resource Economics (IFRO), University of Copenhagen


Professor Nadarajah Sriskandarajah, Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet, SLU, Uppsala

Assessment Committee

Associate professor Lone Søderkvist Kristensen, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen

Senior researcher Egon Noe, Department of Agroecology, Agricultural Systems and Sustainability, University of Aarhus

Research director Marianne Cerf, INRASAD, France