Misc. book reviews by Simon Batterbury – www.simonbatterbury.net


  1. Simpson
  2. Walch


Experimental Agriculture, 2000 (lost by editors so not published – thanks guys!).


Simpson, Brent M. 1999. The Roots of Change: Human Behaviour and Agricultural Evolution in Mali. IT Studies in Indigenous Knowledge and Development. London: Intermediate Technology Publications. ISBN 1 85339 468 8   £15.95 (paper)   172pp

Review by Simon Batterbury, University of Melbourne


Brent Simpson joins a chorus of voices supporting greater recognition for the creativity, inventiveness, and adaptive ability of the African farmer. His study unfolds in the Office de la Haute Vallee du Niger (the OHVN), a large integrated rural development project in south western Mali. This is a study of technological change in dryland African agriculture, linked to an argument about the nature of knowledge communication. Farmer decision making draws upon a variety of knowledge sources and actors, and agricultural production in the zone fulfills economic and social roles, as well as meeting food needs. Technological change is traced to the overlapping realms of inter–generational indigenous knowledge, the acquisition of new ideas from external actors (including OHVN agencies and extension services) and experimentation. Bambara agricultural knowledge is shown to be heterogeneous, with the selective adoption of modern innovations like ploughs and fertiliser, while formal extension services appear to be ineffective in responding to diverse circumstances and needs and conditions. The book traces differences in the way livelihood systems are constructed to include non–farm activity, in this zone of strong migration and trade.    While a review of the agricultural system is abbreviated (the main text is 114 pages), Simpson develop a useful theoretical argument in the later chapters that accounts for the diverse ways in which a 'social pool' of agricultural knowledge is appropriated by sub–groups and individuals. Recommendations for future interventions in the zone revolve around 'loose packages' or 'baskets of choices' of technologies, which may be identified and trialled though joint learning with some involvement of external agencies. Simpson largely rejects the present Training and Visit (T&V) system in favour of support for experimentation and innovation in whole livelihood systems contains agricultural and non–agricultural elements.


The study, based on PhD research conducted in the early 1990s, complements the studies of writers including Mike Mortimore and Camilla Toulmin on village–level agrarian systems in dryland West Africa. The treatment of communication and agricultural knowledge is challenging and thoughtful. Less is presented in this book than in some others on farmer behaviour, in order to focus on communication and knowledge issues. Accessible to students, researchers and practitioners alike and with an excellent bibliography, this is a useful and thought–provoking book. The puzzle it left me with is this: in a country with a long history of support to farmers, why is communication between farmers and extension services so difficult?





Batterbury, S.P.J. & S. Redgrave. 2000. Walch, J. In the Net: an internet guide for activists. Times Literary Supplement (London) May 12: p32


Jim Walch 2000 In the Net: an internet guide for activists 188 pp. London: Zed Books. price £12.95 paperback ISBN 1 856497593


This book is an“introduction, a handbook, a political treatise, and a history” of the Internet. It is not a “how-to” guide for activists, as its title suggests. Walch begins by discussing the growing power of information technology, the history of hacking, and the need to broaden Net access from its once-privileged base.  Like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, he espouses a vision of freely-available Net technology for everyone; not for “fun and games for youngsters and yuppies, or restricted to ivory tower academic exchanges, or…to moving the shopping mall to our home computer” (p78) but for lobbying, learning, participating in the struggles of others, and permitting effective and timely communication.


For Walch, a ‘telematic utopian’ according to his own typology, the technology is a powerful tool to redress inequalities in information access, and to disseminate democratic ideas and expressive freedoms. Yet he worries whether the slow spread of “computer mediated communication” in Southern countries is really doing much more that reproducing an insidious English-language corporatist “McCulture”. He also highlights the dangers of  Internet snobbery by established Net presences like CNN, and contrasts this with several grassroots organisations and justice campaigns who have used the Net effectively to give themselves a global profile. Perhaps, following his arguments, free publication of this book in multiple languages should now occur on the Internet (currently it must be purchased, it is written in English, and it is pitched at those with some understanding of social science and the language of communications research).


For the scholarly readership in particular, this is a helpful volume. Following Chomsky, Walch highlights “the responsibility of writers and intellectuals to tell the truth – not necessarily to the powers that be, for they usually have a pretty good idea of what is happening, but to an informal public that may want to hear the truth and do something about it” (p 101). If the Net is to reach citizens, it is a shame that – as the book shows - a democratic, loosely patrolled World Wide Web has generated a high percentage of poor quality, obtuse, inaccurate, partisan or jargon-ridden writing and trivial advertising. Perhaps this is the true cost of democratic technology.  As the Internet’s commercial possibilities are expanded almost daily, Internet commercialism will continue to exist in dynamic tension with its pioneering role in supporting freedoms.



Development Studies Institute