I was born on the 24th of January 1923 in Delingat, a village of the Bohera province in the Nile Delta, Egypt. At the age of five, I was enrolled in an informal elementary school (Sheikh Ali) before starting formal primary and secondary education (Munira in Cairo, Mahalla al-Kubra in the Delta and Banba Qaden in Cairo, all government schools). In Mahalla School, I joined the Boy-Scout Association and was introduced to camping, self-discipline and helping others in need. In Banba Qaden School, I took part in the performance of the school’s English play “The Admirable Crichton” by M. J. Barrie, a required novel for the A-level secondary school certificate, 1940.
During the Second World War, I completed my undergraduate university education at the College of Agriculture, University of Cairo and received the B.Sc. degree in June 1944. In the meantime, I joined the College’s Fallah (peasant) Society and became its president in 1943. The aim was to understand the human and social dimension of agriculture. To put this perception in practice, I investigated the work and living conditions of the hired agricultural workers of the college farm. Struck by the co-existence of a concentration of PhD degrees among the faculty members and the prevalence of illiteracy among the college farm workers on the other extreme, I organized anti-illiteracy evening classes for the workers during the two academic years, 1942 and 1943. The same voluntary work was extended to the landless farm workers of the Kafr el-Sheikh royal estates where university field training took place during the summer vacation. The activities of the College Fallah Society, in particular, and the role of the educated youth in rural development voluntary work, in general, were the subject of two radio broadcasts (Egyptian Broadcasting Corporation) in 1943 and 1944, arranged by the Fallah Department of the Ministry of Social Affairs. The focus was on creating awareness about widespread illiteracy and absolute poverty in rural areas and what the educated youth can voluntarily do to alleviate them. In 1943 and 1944, I was elected president of the College Student Union and its representative to the Student Union of the University of Cairo.
In recognition of these extra-curricular activities, I was awarded the University Scholarship (maganeyat tafawoq) for two years prior to graduation. Besides, I was exempted from military service as a result of receiving the university degree before reaching the age of 21.
Starting September 1944 and for six years, I was appointed in the Egyptian Government as agricultural specialist in the Rural Community Development Centers of the Fallah Department, Ministry of Social Affairs under the leadership of Dr. Ahmad Hussain who was my Professor of Rural Economics at the College of Agriculture. I worked for two years in villages then was promoted in 1947 to senior officer for research on land tenure arrangements and living conditions of rural households. In March 1948, I was selected to undergo a two-month training course in statistics organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for the Arab states, which was held in Abu-Ghraib, Iraq. Between September 1948 and May 1950, I attended post-graduate evening classes towards a diploma in statistics at the Institute of Statistics, University of Cairo and two courses in English at the American University in Cairo. Between January and May 1950, I was chosen to work with International Labor Organization (ILO) experts Dr. Cassidy and Dr. Zelenka for the conduct of a rural household income/expenditure survey, the results of which served as a basis for instituting Egypt’s Social Security Program.
In June 1950, I was awarded, on merit, the Egyptian Government Scholarship for post-graduate studies in the USA towards the PhD degree in agricultural economics. I received my MSc in 1951 from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and my PhD in 1954 from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, including courses in economics at Duke University. In 1952, I was an invited member of Alpha Kappa Delta, the national honorary fraternity for university students with distinguished academic records in the social sciences. Following the completion of my academic studies, I visited the states of Louisiana and Mississippi for field observations about hired agricultural workers and tenants in cotton plantations and rice farms, being common to Egypt’s cropping system. I also attended post-graduate seminars with Professor Kenneth Parsons at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Professors D. Gale Johnson and T.W. Schultz at the University of Chicago.
On return to Egypt after completing my doctoral studies, I was appointed Chief, Rural Development Studies Branch, Ministry of Social Affairs, and at the same time a part-time advisor to Sayed Marei, President of the Land Reform Agency and part-time Associate Professor of land economics, department of agricultural economics, University of Ein-Shams, Cairo. At the request of the FAO, I was seconded in 1955 for a period of six months to conduct a field study on land tenure systems in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan, the results of which were presented in a paper on ‘Income distribution and capital formation in relation to land reform’ at a regional seminar of Middle Eastern specialists and international experts held in October 1955 in Salah-uddin, Iraq. Among the participants were Professors Kenneth Parsons, Charles Issawi and Rainer Schickele. In June of the same year, I participated in an ILO Working Group on the Protection of Plantation Workers. During the period 1956-57, I conducted jointly with Dr. F. Halloul, Associate Professor of rural sociology, University of Alexandria, a field survey on ‘The Effects of Industrialization on the Rural Communities in Kafr el-Dawar, Bohera province, Egypt’. It covered 619 rural households living in three villages; Kafr Sileem, Al-Beida and King Othman, situated around the cotton textile factories, to the southeast of Alexandria. The results of the study served both the newly established Ministry of Industry and the National Planning Commission in their work towards an industrial expansion strategy.
Between April 1957 and February 1960, I was employed by the FAO to work first at its headquarters in Rome. The task was to write a paper on ‘The Work of FAO in Land Reform’ and to participate in the FAO Mediterranean Study under the leadership of Professor Thomas Balogh, Oxford University. This was followed by undertaking an intensive program at the FAO in Rome to learn Spanish prior to working in Latin America.
I was then appointed as an FAO land reform expert with the Government of Paraguay for a period of 18 months, and then (for six months) as coordinator of the FAO Land Reform Team for Latin America with the duty station in Mexico City. The purpose was to examine the FAO’s country programs in Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Uruguay and Venezuela. Other team members were Professors Giuseppe Barbero, Italy, V. Dandekar, India and Marco A. Duran, Mexico. In addition, I gave a series of lectures in Spanish on economia de la tierra (land economics) at the following institutions: the University of Asuncion, Paraguay, the Agrarian Research Centre, Mexico City and the University of Oruro, Bolivia. The work in Latin America provided the opportunity to translate the principles of agricultural economics learnt at universities into policy prescriptions and training programs for government staff, and to obtain first-hand acquaintance with peasants’ conditions and rural systems in several Latin American countries that would help the FAO to improve its technical assistance in the region. During the assignment in Latin America, I was married on 2nd June 1959 to Marianne Ruth Snell of Petts Wood, Kent, England (at the London Islamic Centre, Regent’s Park, and Bromley’s Marriage Registration Office).
With the approval of the Egyptian Government, I was appointed in March 1960 (permanent status under the United Nations regular program) at the FAO headquarters, Rome, as Land Tenure Specialist (1960-66), and was promoted in 1967 to Chief, Land Reform Branch. During this period, my children Samira, Hamdi and Anwar were born in Rome. Between 1965 and 1970, I was elected twice as a member of the FAO Staff Council, a body representing and safeguarding the interests of the professional and general service staff members, and discreetly settling, through mediation, their personal disputes. Also during the same period, I served as a Technical Secretary of the European Committee on the Consolidation of Fragmented Holdings, Zurich, Switzerland; Secretary-General of the Center on Land Policy in the Near East, Tripoli, Libya; and Supervisor of both the Tribal Lands Development Project, Jabal al-Akhdar, Libya. In addition, I gave seminars at the Latin American Institute on Training and Research in Agrarian Reform in Santiago, Chile.
In September 1970, and at my request, I was transferred from the FAO headquarters, Rome to the FAO Regional Office for the Near East in Cairo, Egypt to serve the countries of the region as Senior Advisor for Rural Development. The primary purpose of this change was to enable my three children to learn Arabic and to live in an Egyptian-Muslim community. During 1973, I conducted a field survey on the effects of Egyptian land reform on production and income distribution in three reformed areas located in the Delta (Inshas, Itay al-Barood and Gabaris), covering a sample of 611 households. In September 1974, I presented a program about food security on both the Egyptian and the Tunisian TV, and was the first to use its term in Arabic, amn ghizai. I was promoted in April 1976 to director level, and appointed as Deputy Regional Representative of the FAO, while continuing professional responsibilities for specific rural institution subjects (land reform, credit, extension service and marketing).
I was an active participant in the preparation for, and organization of, the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, held in Rome, July 1979. During the period 1975-80 and under a special arrangement with the FAO’s Department of Administration, I worked on a part-time basis as a Visiting Professor of agricultural economics, both at the Universities of Cairo and Ein-Shams, lecturing to MSc and PhD graduate students in welfare economics, income distribution and the political economy of land reform, and serving as an external examiner in university committees for PhD degrees. Over this six-year period, I donated my university fees to a fund for the purchase of non-Arabic text books needed by the students. The lectures delivered over this period were published in Arabic in 1980 (two volumes) and were distributed free of charge to graduate students.
In April 1980, I was appointed Deputy Director of the Human Resources and Agrarian Reform Division at the FAO headquarters, Rome, and remained in that post until retirement on 1st August 1985, when presented by Edouard Saouma, the Director-General of the FAO with the Silver Medal of Distinguished Services. Before retirement, and in addition to the Deputy Director position, I had direct professional responsibility for two services of the division, ‘Rural Development Analysis’ and ‘Land Tenure and Agrarian Reform’. My work included: (1) Developing a program for monitoring changes in rural poverty at the country and international levels, (2) leading inter-agency missions (United Nations agencies) to Yemen, Oman and Nepal and serving as a member of the mission to Mozambique (the purpose of these missions was the assessment of each country’s rural development strategy and the provision of assistance in monitoring progress in poverty alleviation); (3) promoting close working relations between the FAO and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) including trade unions, representing small farmers and rural workers (succeeded for the first time in FAO’s work in holding an international meeting for the leaders of these trade unions at the FAO headquarters in Rome); and (4) participating in the orientation of FAO activities towards serving disadvantaged groups in rural areas such as small farmers and fishermen, rural women and the agricultural landless workers.
The organization and participation in the orientation work comprised two important activities. One was a special training program for FAO professional staff which was carried out in collaboration with the FAO’s Agricultural Education Service and the academics of the Center for International Studies at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York (with Professors Milton Esman, Porus Olpadwala and Norman Uphoff). The other orientation work was the emphasis on the rural poor in the FAO periodical “The State of Food and Agriculture” (SOFA) as manifested in its issues of 1981 (Chapter 2), 1983 (Chapter 2) and 1985 (p. 81-7).
Upon retirement from the FAO in August 1985, I have been engaged in academic, research activities and short-term missions to advise developing countries on land reform and other poverty alleviation programs. At the invitation of Professor Hans Singer, the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex, England, I spent three months (September – November 1985) as a Visiting Fellow; reading literature on development studies, having discussions with Professors Singer and Michael Lipton on rural development issues, giving a seminar on ‘The role of multinational corporations in aggravating land tenure and poverty problems with examples from Kenya and the Philippines’. In addition, I completed the final editing of the FAO manuscript ‘The Dynamics of Rural Poverty’ which I prepared in 1984-85 before retirement and which was published by the FAO in 1986. During this period, I was invited to give seminars by Professors Laurence Smith and Radha Sinha, Department of Political Economy of the University of Glasgow and by Dr. Osner of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation (BMZ) and Dr. Klaus Klennert of the German Foundation for Development (DSE), West Berlin and at Feldafing, Germany. I also gave two seminars on ‘Development Strategies for the Rural Poor’ at the Agricultural Development Center, Feldafing.
After spending three months at the University of Ein Shams, Cairo, Egypt, I went to Oxford, England in March 1986. I was affiliated with the University of Oxford as a Visiting Fellow at the invitation of both Professor George Peters, Director of the Institute of Agricultural Economics, and the St Cross College. On 16 March 1986, I gave a seminar at the institute on ‘The role of land reform in rural development’. In the same year, I was invited to give seminars at the Universities of Reading and Bath, and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), Regent Park, London. During the months of September and October 1986, I was appointed Mission Leader by the UN/ESCWA to assess rural development policy and programs in the Yemen Arab Republic (mission members were Dr. Godfrey Tyler, Oxford University, Mr. Khan Azam, economist from Pakistan working with the United Nations ESCWA in Beirut and Mr. Risto Zelchevich, FAO consultant from Yugoslavia).
In October and November 1987, I gave a series of seminars in the USA at the invitation of: Professor Milton Esman, Chairman of the Department of Government and the Director of the Center of International Studies, Cornell University; Professor Richard King of the Department of Agricultural Economics at North Carolina State University, Raleigh; and Professor Cox of the Department of Economics, the University of Arizona, Tucson. The subjects of these seminars were: ‘The determinants of poverty in rural areas based on data from a sample of 20 developing countries’; and other policy issues arising out of my experience gained while working with the FAO. In September 1988, I was elected Senior Research Associate, International Development Center at Queen Elizabeth House, and gave a seminar on the ‘Agricultural Dimension of Poverty’.
In 1990-91, I was commissioned by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Rome, to write a paper on ‘Land Tenure Systems and Rural Poverty in North Africa’, and by the FAO to work in Rome as senior consultant to prepare an assessment of the progress made by developing countries in agrarian reform and poverty alleviation during the period 1986-90. This was followed in March 1990 by a consultancy with the FAO and the University of Los Banos, the Philippines, to examine the Philippines’ program on land reform, and to lecture on ‘the Egyptian experience in land reform and its relevance to the Philippines’. On 17 May 1991, I lectured on ‘What is poverty and how is it measured?’ at Corpus Christi College, Oxford University.
During the month of June 1991, I was invited by the All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences (VASKHNIL) of the Soviet Union to advise, together with six other foreign experts, on the individualization of collective land rights, and to discuss with Soviet specialists on ‘what to do with state farms and public property rights. ’ This mission in the Soviet Union was financed by the European Economic Community (EEC) in Brussels, and the papers and working groups’ reports were published by the FAO Legal Counsel Department in a volume titled ‘Land Reform and the Problems of Land Legislation.’ This work reflected policy reforms in the former Soviet Union initiated in 1988 by President Mikhail Gorbachev to introduce structural adjustment reforms needed for the transition towards market-orientation of the national economy. With this rising trend away from government-administered land reform, the Food Study Group of the International Development Center at Oxford University invited me to give a seminar on ‘Is Land Reform Dead?’ held at Queen Elizabeth House on 4 May 1993.
For a period of four months in 1993-94, I was appointed by the Africa Economic Commission/FAO as mission leader to review and evaluate the work of the African Center on Integrated Rural Development (CIRD AFRICA) in Arusha, Tanzania. Mission members were Messrs.’ Francis Makoza, Malawi, Theophilus Mlaki, Tanzania and Adonijah Nyamwanda, Kenya (other countries visited were Benin, Ghana, Nigeria and Zaire). The field visits and studies carried out in seven African countries provided the opportunity to assess the commitment of governments, university academics and non-governmental organizations on poverty alleviation, and to benefit from numerous contacts with African social scientists. These issues were the subject of the mission’s report written in Nairobi, Kenya and discussed at the meetings of the Governing Council and the Technical Committee of CIRD AFRICA in February 1994 held at in Arusha, Tanzania. The report was published later in Arabic, English and French.
Between 26 November and 4 December 1993, and at the invitation of Dr. Michael Woolverton and Dr. Roe Goddard, I gave two seminars on ‘The Food Security Dimension of Poverty’ and ‘Some Analytical Issues of Affluence and Poverty in the Middle East’ respectively, at The Thunderbird School of Global Management, Glendale, Arizona. I was also invited in April 1996 by the Agricultural University of Hungary at Godollo to talk about “Agrarian Changes and Recent Economic Reforms in Countries of the Near East”, at the International Workshop on Rural Development organized jointly by the university and the FAO.
In 1994, I was elected Fellow, Department of Economics, American University in Cairo, and on 26 November 1997, I was unanimously elected as Professor Emeritus by the academic staff of the College of Agriculture (agricultural economics), University of Ein-Shams, Cairo (The University Act was issued in February 2000).
During the period from November 1996 to April 1997, I prepared in Cairo a study on the effects of economic reforms on income distribution and poverty levels in Egypt and Tunisia, the results of which appeared in Affluence and Poverty in the Middle East, Chapter 10. Between April and August 1998, I was commissioned by UNRISD of the United Nations, Geneva to prepare a study, “The Political Economy of Market-Based Land Reform”; the findings of which were discussed on 25 August 1998 at UNRISD headquarters, Geneva. The study was published in 1999 as UNRISD Discussion Paper No. 104 and published as Chapter 5 in Land Reform and Peasant Livelihoods, Krishna Ghimire (ed.).
Over the decade 1990-2000, I refereed and reviewed articles submitted for possible publication in the Journal of Agricultural Economics, as well as the Food Policy and Development and Change journals.
During the period January 1998 to October 2001, I was engaged in the preparation of a book project, ‘Egypt in the Twenty-First Century’. The preparation included: consultations with colleagues about the idea, designing the plan of the book, contacting potential contributors, writing three chapters (An Overview, Development Strategies 1950-2000, and the Standard of Living), corresponding with possible publishers and editing the entire manuscript.
I was honored by the Council of Egypt’s Agricultural Economics Society and its members at their annual meeting held on 26 September, 2000, Cairo, for being a pioneer in land economics. In January 2001, I was appointed by Egypt’s Minister of Higher Education as a member of the Board of the Institute of Social Studies, Cairo.
In 2010, I was elected as a Lifetime Senior Research Associate at the Department of International Development at Oxford University, to which “honorary” was added in 2011.
In 2016, I published my final book, “Development Economics: Searching for the Roots of Rural Income Inequality”.