Agricultural extension has much to offer the rural poor, providing that they are perceived not merely as producers, but also consumers and labourers, and that appropriate wider policies are in place. However, agricultural extension policy in many countries over recent decades has been exclusively production-focused, institutionally monolithic, centrally directed, and organised on the premise that public sector extension structures can effectively reach down to village level. Partly in reaction to this, neoliberal voices have recently urged ‘reform’ in the sense of wide-scale privatisation of extension and removal of the state ‘subsidy’ that it implies. The study reported here challenges both approaches. Appropriate future policies will avoid past extremes of state-dominated or (hoped for) private sector provision. Instead, they will focus on identifying appropriate public and private roles and partnerships between them. A powerful policy driver will be to reduce the risk of ‘durable disorder’ to which remote areas are especially susceptible.