Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Livestock and Small Farmer Labor Supply

B. Fitch, James and Soliman, Ibrahim (1983): Livestock and Small Farmer Labor Supply. Published in: in "Migration, mechanization, and Agricultural Labor Markets in Egypt, Alan Richards and Philip Martin, (Editors) PP. 45 -77, West-view Press, Boulder, Colorado, USA (20 October 1983): pp. 45-78.


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Egypt's rural population contains a high proportion of farmers with very small farms. Average farm size, now thought to be less than 2.5 feddan, continues to decline under the pressure of the growing rural population. More than two thirds of the farming units are less than three feddan in size. Often it is asserted that a two to three feddan farm is necessary for "subsistence" or to avoid the need to work for others. Surprisingly, however, this study indicates that smaller farmers are not very active participants in hired farm labor markets. How, then, can such farmers survive? We contend that livestock production provides a vital alternative source of employment, food, and income to the small farmer.

Livestock production may represent an important survival strategy for Egypt's small farmers. The authors discussed the problems in drawing upon national statistics as a source of information about livestock. Survey data found that livestock production generates a higher proportion of income on small farms than on large farms, and showed that small farmers devote more labor to livestock than to crops.

Livestock production provides attractive opportunities for Egypt's farmers, particularly small farmers, to augment farm incomes as well as to obtain vital human food nutrients. An estimated sixty-five percent of all equivalent animal units were found to be on farms with three feddan and less. More than three quarters of the edible milk and dairy products are home consumed on farms on this size. Given the fact that livestock production is so heavily concentrated on these small farms and that they consume such a high proportion of what they produce, it follows that these farms cannot be counted upon to supply a very significant amount of dairy and other livestock products to Egypt's growing off-farm population. But data presented here indicates the opposite. Because they are so much more productive than larger farms, the amount of livestock products w hich is marketed by small farms exceeds that marketed by larger farms, when measured on either a per feddan or per animal unit basis.

Is the intensification in livestock production which Egypt has experienced during the past two decades a temporary or a long term phenomenon? Apparently, it seems that livestock intensification cannot normally succeed in developing countries, in the face of high human population densities and the resultant competition for crop land. Data presented in this study seems to indicate that just the opposite may be true in Egypt during the current epoch. Why? Will the current situation last?

Egypt's farm population has continued to grow on a fixed base of land. The average farm size has become smaller it is currently estimated to be about 2.4 feddan and the farm family labor available per farm and per unit area of land has increased. Evidence presented here indicates that livestock production has a much greater capacity than crop production for utilizing additional family labor. This factor favors livestock production, aside from the favorable relative price situation which exists. Livestock production has normally been intensified when declines in grain price have been the stimulus for a shift from arable to relatively more !intensive livestock farming."[14] Clearly, government policies have held grain and other crop prices relative to livestock prices. Without doubt this has contributed to livestock intensification. Should the Egyptian government decide to permit crop prices to rise towards their international trading equivalent, then the current incentives to produce livestock would be greatly reduced

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