Research on sector-based approaches in agriculture suggests that, while they have contributed to improvements in process and dialogue, they remain expensive experiments. A heavy emphasis on systems and institutional capacity building initiatives has made service delivery a secondary concern. It seems that such approaches have become too focused on the means, rather than on their intended ends. Even so, they continue to be relevant to the pursuit of developmental objectives in agriculture, and the time may be right to reinvigorate the whole approach. This will require addressing the political, institutional and operational factors that have hampered their success to date.