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Subsistence Agriculture

Things No One Tells You About Subsistence Agriculture

Subsistence agriculture or subsistence farming is a type of agriculture, which is being practiced since many centuries. Let's know more about subsistence farming, from this article.
Suganya Sukumar
Last Updated: Apr 22, 2018
Subsistence agriculture is a labor-intensive method of cultivating food crops, which is sufficient for the farmer and his family. The production is done on a small scale which is adequate to feed a small population. Self-sufficiency is primarily focused in subsistence farming, due to which surplus food is reduced. An entire family or a small society depends on subsistence farming for their livelihood. In many parts of the world like Africa, Indonesia, Latin America, south and east Asia and some isolated areas, subsistence farming is prevalent and the people feed themselves and their family, by cultivating food crops on their own fields.
  • A farmer grows wheat in his field which is sufficient to make bread for him and his family.
  • A family has only one camel that provides milk for them.
Subsistence Farming
"Subsistence farming is a form of farming in which nearly all the crops or livestock raised are used to maintain the farmer and his family, leaving little, if any, surplus for sale or trade". Barnett et al. explains subsistence farming as ~ "farming and associated activities which together form a livelihood strategy where the main output is consumed directly, where there are few if any purchased inputs and where only a minor proportion of output is marketed".
Subsistence farmers, also hunt animals, get fruits and vegetables from the woods and add it to the food they produced from their lands. They cultivate crops like cotton in a small area of their land and sell it in the market, to get other essential commodities. Depending upon the socioeconomic conditions of the farmers, the size of their plot varies. The plot size also reduces as the number of shares increases, depending on the number of persons inheriting the land from their father.
Subsistence agriculture can be divided into three parts:
  • Herding animals like goats, sheep, cows etc.
  • Cultivating crops like rice, wheat etc.
  • Practicing mixed-farming
Extensive Subsistence Agriculture
The land involved in the cultivation by this method, is large and the people involved in the production process per unit hectare is less.
Nomadic Herding, is a part of extensive method. Depending up on the natural forage, the livestock raised by the subsistence farmers are fed in the pastoral lands. The animals like camel, which are involved in the nomadic herding, have the characteristics of hardiness, mobility and adaptability to the move around in different climatic conditions. Due to altering economic and social system, nomadic groups are declining.
Shifting Agriculture is practiced by subsistence farmers in the extensive agricultural system. In this type of farming, rotation of lands rather than rotation of crops is practiced by the farmers. The lands, due to continuous cultivation and nurturing, lose the essential nutrients in the soil. So, rotation of fields is necessary. Slash-and-burn is one of the techniques used in this method.
Intensive Subsistence Agriculture
In this method, a large area of cultivable field is divided into small plots and the farming is done intensively by the labors, working per unit area of the field. Head of Cattle are also employed in the field by the peasants. Densely populated monsoon regions is ideal for carrying out this type of farming. Wet rice is mainly associated with this method, and it is grown predominantly in Asian countries. Other crops cultivated in this method include wheat, barley, etc. Even though oxen and few tools like hoes, rakes etc., are involved in the cultivation, the work is done by hand, due to which a lot of time is consumed to complete the cultivation process. A huge mass of population is benefited by this type of farming.
Subsistence farming is a traditional agricultural method which is still a livelihood for many people around the world. The subsistence farmers are facing many problems due to increasing complexities such as population growth, international trade, low socioeconomic and financial conditions, low availability of lands, increasing drug crops, advent of agricultural tools and technologies etc.
"Contrasting sharply, in the developing countries represented by India, Pakistan, and most of the countries in Asia and Africa, seventy to eighty percent of the population is engaged in agriculture, mostly at the subsistence level." ~ Norman Borlaug