Subsistence Farming

Subsistence Farming (agriculture) is defined as the farming which is carried out in small scale and with low technology. It aims at food production for local consumption of family or community and not for trade purpose. Thus, this types of agriculture does not have any surplus production. Mostly the shifting cultivators are subsistence farmers. Like hunting and gathering, the shifting cultivation is still followed by the farmers in many regions. In tropical areas, redness of the soil shows deficiency of nutrients. But such soil is replenished after some years when it gets nutrients through the luxurious vegetation which thrives on it during the rest years.

According to an estimate about the volume of subsistence farming in the world, about 200 million people sustain themselves through shifting cultivation in Africa, Central America, Tropical South America and parts of South East Asia. The shifting cultivators are subsistence farmers as are nomadic pastorals who follow their life sustaining herds of livestock. This type of farming is known by various names such as Slash and Burn Agriculture, Milpa Agriculture, Patch Agriculture, etc. As a system, it has changed very little over thousands of years since ancient time. According to H.J. de Blij, “The process of shifting agriculture thus involves a kind of natural rotation system in which areas of forest are used without permanently destroyed……today shifting agriculture continues only in areas where population densities are far lower than such crowded regions of the Nile Delta or Ganges Valley, Shifting agriculture appear destructive, wasteful and disorganized to people who are accustomed to more intensive types of farming.

Subsistence Farming in Modern Era:

Subsistence Farming, despite all of its shortcomings, is still the only option in many underdeveloped countries as detailed below:

  1. It is very popular in many sub-tropical regions of Columbia and Papua New Guinea because due to heavy rainfall several crops can be produced in a year.
  2. Subsistence farming is in practice in parts of the Amazon Basin of Brazil, rural Zambia and islands of Sumatra and Borneo.
  3. Subsistence farming continues to be the way of life in countries like Mexico, Vietnam, Siera Leone, Bolivia, Rwanda and Bostwana.

Techniques of Subsistence Farming:

Subsistence farming comprises of the following methods and techniques:

  1. Due to the limited areas that is available for agriculture the use of tools is limited.
  2. Majority of farmers do most of their work with their hands such as pulling the plough, sowing and reaping etc.
  3. The farmers clear plots by cutting down all bushes and then burn it to get ash (fertilizer).
  4. Land is cleared with the help of fire.
  5. The production is just enough for family use and there is no surplus for sale or trading.


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