Participatory development models remain influential within mainstream development institutions, despite substantial scholarly critique. This paper examines one case study of a rural development facilitator from Tamil Nadu, India, who adopted participatory strategies to promote transitions to ecological agriculture. It considers the challenges and frustrations she faced in adopting these strategies and their shortcomings in promoting meaningful, long-term transformations within communities. In particular, local power structures and neoliberal institutions that made up the local context made it difficult to achieve participatory development’s stated objectives. The case illustrates potential pathways forward beyond the current participatory development impasse, suggesting a modified participatory development model, with a stronger emphasis on fostering cooperative economic relations.