The ruling class has lost its consensus … this means precisely that the great masses have become detached from their traditional ideologies. … The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.
—Antonio Gramsci (1973: 276)
The notion of a general crisis in African agriculture has entered the current African development lexicon with great rapidity. In spite of the questionable quality of some of the most basic agricultural production statistics (see Berry, 1984), critics of quite different political and theoretical persuasion have promoted the view of widespread structural stagnation (World Bank, 1981; Eicher, 1982; Lofchie and Commins, 1982). Sustained by the realities of starving peasants in the Horn of Africa, of a meteoric growth in food imports during the 1970s, and the persistence of high fertility regimes across the continent, this identification of an agricultural collapse in more than twenty African states raises the spectre of a Malthusian crisis of terrifying proportions (Africa News, Feb. 6, 1984). The plausibility of a widespread agrarian crisis is lent further credence when it is painted on the much larger canvas of national economic performance. The quadrupling of oil prices, stagnant or falling primary commodity prices, high interest rates and debilitating debt repayments, and periodic recession in the world economy have all contributed to the unfavorable current account balance and the economic austerity across the continent as a whole.