Subsistence agriculture

Subsistence agriculture

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Subsistence agriculture is self-sufficiency
Self-sufficiency refers to the state of not requiring any outside aid, support, or interaction, for survival; it is therefore a type of personal or collective autonomy...

 farming in which the farmers focus on growing enough food to feed their families. The typical subsistence farm has a range of crops and animals needed by the family to eat and clothe themselves during the year. Planting decisions are made with an eye toward what the family will need during the coming year, rather than market prices. Tony Waters writes: "Subsistence peasants are people who grow what they eat, build their own houses, and live without regularly making purchases in the marketplace."

Subsistence grain-growing agriculture (predominantly wheat
Wheat is a cereal grain, originally from the Levant region of the Near East, but now cultivated worldwide. In 2007 world production of wheat was 607 million tons, making it the third most-produced cereal after maize and rice...

 and barley
Barley is a major cereal grain, a member of the grass family. It serves as a major animal fodder, as a base malt for beer and certain distilled beverages, and as a component of various health foods...

) first emerged during the Neolithic Revolution
Neolithic Revolution
The Neolithic Revolution was the first agricultural revolution. It was the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture and settlement. Archaeological data indicates that various forms of plants and animal domestication evolved independently in 6 separate locations worldwide circa...

 when humans began to settle in the Nile
The Nile is a major north-flowing river in North Africa, generally regarded as the longest river in the world. It is long. It runs through the ten countries of Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Egypt.The Nile has two major...

, Euphrates
The Euphrates is the longest and one of the most historically important rivers of Western Asia. Together with the Tigris, it is one of the two defining rivers of Mesopotamia...

, and Indus River
Indus River
The Indus River is a major river which flows through Pakistan. It also has courses through China and India.Originating in the Tibetan plateau of western China in the vicinity of Lake Mansarovar in Tibet Autonomous Region, the river runs a course through the Ladakh district of Jammu and Kashmir and...

 Valleys. Subsistence agriculture also emerged independently in Mexico where it was based on maize cultivation, and the Andes where it was based on the domestication of the potato. Subsistence agriculture was the dominant mode of production in the world until recently, when market-based capitalism
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

 became widespread. Subsistence horticulture
Horticulture is the industry and science of plant cultivation including the process of preparing soil for the planting of seeds, tubers, or cuttings. Horticulturists work and conduct research in the disciplines of plant propagation and cultivation, crop production, plant breeding and genetic...

 may have developed independently in South East Asia and Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea , officially the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, is a country in Oceania, occupying the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and numerous offshore islands...


Subsistence farming continues today in large parts of up-country Africa, and other countries of Asia and Latin America. Subsistence agriculture had by and large disappeared in Europe by the beginning of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, and in North America with the movement of sharecroppers
Sharecropping is a system of agriculture in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a share of the crop produced on the land . This should not be confused with a crop fixed rent contract, in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a fixed amount of...

 and tenant farmers out of the American South and Midwest during the 1930s and 1940s. In Central and Eastern Europe subsistence and semi-subsistence agriculture reappeared within the transition economy
Transition economy
A transition economy or transitional economy is an economy which is changing from a centrally planned economy to a free market. Transition economies undergo economic liberalization, where market forces set prices rather than a central planning organization and trade barriers are removed,...

 since about 1990.

Shifting agriculture
Shifting cultivation
Shifting cultivation is an agricultural system in which plots of land are cultivated temporarily, then abandoned. This system often involves clearing of a piece of land followed by several years of wood harvesting or farming, until the soil loses fertility...

 ('slash and burn' or Jhooming)

In this type of agriculture, a patch of forest land is cleared by a combination of felling and burning, and crops are grown. After 2-3 years the fertility of the soil begins to decline, the land is abandoned and the farmer moves to clear a fresh piece of land elsewhere in the forest and the process continues. While the land is left fallow the forest regrows in the cleared area and soil fertility and biomass is restored. After a decade or more, the farmer may return to the first piece of land. This form of agriculture is sustainable at low population densities, but higher population loads require more frequent clearing which prevents soil fertility from recovering, opens up more of the forest canopy, and encourages scrub at the expense of large trees, eventually resulting in deforestation and heavy erosion.

Nomadic herding

In this type of farming people migrate along with their animals from one place to another in search of fodder for their animals. Generally they rear cattle, sheep, goats, camels and/or yaks for milk, skin, meat and wool. This way of life is common in parts of central and western asia, India, east and south-west africa and northern eurasia. Bhotiyas and gujjars are the nomadic tribes of himalayas.

Intensive subsistence farming

In very densely populated countries like India and China, farmers use their small land holding to produce enough for their own consumption, while the little remaining produce is used for exchange against other goods. These farmers try to obtain maximum yield from the available lands by intensifying cultivation techniques, including the preparation of paddy fields
Paddy field
A paddy field is a flooded parcel of arable land used for growing rice and other semiaquatic crops. Paddy fields are a typical feature of rice farming in east, south and southeast Asia. Paddies can be built into steep hillsides as terraces and adjacent to depressed or steeply sloped features such...

 which can be used year after year. In the most intensive situation, farmers may even create terraces along steep hillsides to cultivate rice paddy. Such fields are found in densely populated parts of Asia, most famously in The Philippines. They may also intensify by using manure, artificial irrigation and animal waste as fertilizer.

Historic examples of subsistence farming

In the soviet union the Scissor Crisis of 1923 led to subsistence farming. This caused some to worry about the possibility of a famine among those in cities.

See also

  • Commercial agriculture
    Commercial agriculture
    Commercial Agriculture refers to a process of large-scale production of crops for sale, intended for widespread distribution to wholesalers or retail outlets. In commercial farming crops such as wheat, maize, tea, coffee, sugarcane, cashew, rubber, banana, cotton are harvested and sold into world...

  • Industrial agriculture
    Industrial agriculture
    Industrial farming is a form of modern farming that refers to the industrialized production of livestock, poultry, fish, and crops. The methods of industrial agriculture are technoscientific, economic, and political...

  • Cash crop
    Cash crop
    In agriculture, a cash crop is a crop which is grown for profit.The term is used to differentiate from subsistence crops, which are those fed to the producer's own livestock or grown as food for the producer's family...

  • Hoe-farming
    Hoe-farming is a collective term for certain forms of agriculture. In the farming of some early societies, and in some traditional cultures of the recent times or the near past, the tillage was done with simple manual tools like digging sticks or hoes, for example seeding was done manually by...

  • Opium replacement
    Opium replacement
    Opium replacement simply means the process of replacing the growing as a cash crop of the opium poppy, the source of morphine and heroin, with non-drug crops...

  • Slash and burn
    Slash and burn
    Slash-and-burn is an agricultural technique which involves cutting and burning of forests or woodlands to create fields. It is subsistence agriculture that typically uses little technology or other tools. It is typically part of shifting cultivation agriculture, and of transhumance livestock...

  • Subsistence fishing