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Subsistence Farming, Meaning, Methods, Merits & Demerits

Subsistence Farming

Subsistence Farming is a form of agriculture where almost all the produce goes to feed and support the household. It is a type of agriculture in which a farmer produces crops and rears animals to fulfil the needs or requirements of his family and not for the market. This farming is found in less developed and developing countries, mainly in tropical regions. A striking feature of farming is its scattered distribution; small patches of tilled land are surrounded and separated by broad stretches of forest.

A classic example is Nagaland in the northeast hilly region of India. In the hill tracts and valleys, Naga people follow this type of farming. Considering the region’s natural environment, the Naga people cultivate paddy and produce rice.

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Subsistence Farming Nature and Method of Cultivation

Under Subsistence Farming, farmers with their traditional tools and agricultural implements till the land and harvest the crops. They produce what they need. To fulfil their own requirement, they grow a variety of crops. All the family members involve themselves in farming. Hence, it acts as family farming.

They mostly depend on rainfall to cultivate their land; sometimes, they irrigate the land from a local supply of water, such as ponds or other local reservoirs. They manage to procure all the agricultural needs with their efforts; the crops they produce consume themselves, and they do not sell the crop in the market.

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Subsistence Farming Examples

Subsistence farmers produce a variety of crops according to the agricultural environment of the region. In tropical and sub-tropical countries, they grow tropical and subtropical crops like manioc, yams, millets, rice, vegetables, sweet potatoes, cassava, peas, groundnuts, and cotton based on the need of their families. They grow barley, corn, wheat, sugar beet, potatoes, and vegetables in temperate regions.

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Subsistence Farming in India

The subsistence type of farming is undertaken as an act of desperation for survival and not for generating income. Usually, it does not fulfil the farmers’ needs despite their hard labour in their fields. It is practised in some remote parts where the line of communication is detached from the outside world due to rugged terrain, difficult valleys, scattered over mountains, small valley tracts in between high mountains, and secluded parts cut from the mainstream of civilizations.

The subsistence farming method is found in small patches in some underdeveloped mountainous regions or remote valleys of Asia and Africa. In India, it is found in the hilly northeastern parts; subsistence agriculture is also followed in several parts of Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Sri Lanka, and others.

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Subsistence Farming Characteristics

Subsistence agriculture is characterized by the following features:

  • It is practised over small farmland without extensive machinery.
  • Most of the cultivation is done by hand and traditional tools and simple agricultural implements tools
  • The production of crops is too low to meet the requirements of the farmers and their families.
  • There remain no excess productions to sell in the market in this farming.
  • The traditional farming method is carried on. Hand tools mainly do it; sometimes, animal power is employed.
  • The agricultural returns are very low, but the investment in manual labour is very high.
  • In mountain terrains, there is a dearth of extensive lands and valleys. Hence, farming is characterized by small farms.
  • Subsistence farming is also characterized by heavy population pressure on agricultural land.
  • Dependency on nature is another characteristic. It mainly depends on nature for the supply of rainfall.

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Subsistence Farming Demerits

Subsistence farming has several demerits or disadvantages, some of which include:

  • Low productivity
  • Limited access to inputs and markets
  • Vulnerability to climate and environmental shocks
  • Low income
  • Limited opportunities for diversification
  • Land degradation and deforestation

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Subsistence Farming Merits

Despite the challenges and disadvantages, subsistence farming has some merits or advantages, including:

  • The influence of market forces on the crop production pattern is insignificant.
  • Food security because farmers produce crops for their requirements only.
  • Farmers try to maintain the fertility of the soil.
  • Preservation of traditional knowledge
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Low financial risk
  • Contribution to local economies
  • Resilience

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Subsistence Farming UPSC

In India, the vast majority of farmers engage in subsistence agriculture or cultivating for their own consumption. The farmers and their families consume the majority of the crop, so there is none left over to be sold on the market.

Small and dispersed landholdings and rudimentary, archaic cultivation methods are used in this style of farming. Modern machineries like tractors and agricultural inputs like chemical fertilisers, insecticides, and herbicides are completely absent. In this type of farming, grains are mostly grown along with sugarcane, oilseeds, legumes, and vegetables.

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Other Indian Geography Topics

Seasons of India Mountains of India
Mangrove Forests in India Important Mountain Passes in India
Monsoon in India
Indus River System
Climate of India
Rivers of India
Tributaries of Ganga
National Parks in India
Important Dams in India
Wildlife Sanctuaries of India
Tiger Reserves in India
Northern Plains of India
Physiography of India
Important Lakes of India
Wetlands in India
Biodiversity in India
Natural Vegetation in India Earthquakes in India
Types of Soil in India
Ramsar Sites in India
Brahmaputra River System
Hydropower Plants in India
Nuclear Power Plants in India
Major Ports in India
Biosphere Reserves in India
Waterfalls in India

Other Fundamental Geography Topics

Solar System Types of Clouds
Structure of the Atmosphere Himalayan Ranges
Component of Environment
El Nino and La Nina
Coral Reef
Continental Drift Theory
Endogenic and Exogenic Forces
Indian Ocean Region
Pacific Ocean
Indian Ocean Dipole
Air Pollution
Environmental Impact Assessment
Tropical Cyclone
Western Disturbances
Types of Rocks

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What do you mean by subsistence farming?

Almost all of the products or livestock produced in a subsistence farming system are consumed by the farmer and his or her family, leaving little to no extra for sale or trade.

What is the example of subsistence farming?

With shifting cultivation, which is a sort of subsistence farming, farmers remove a section of forest land by felling and burning trees before planting crops there. To provide for the requirements of the farmer's family, this form of farming is carried out.

What is Subsistence Agriculture?

In agriculture, a practice known as subsistence farming, crops are planted to supply the farmers' needs. Agriculture is therefore practised on a small scale without the sale or exchange of surplus items.

What is subsistence farming main types?

Intensive subsistence agriculture and primitive subsistence agriculture are the two categories under which subsistence farming can be divided.

What are the two features of subsistence farming?

Small and dispersed land holdings and the use of simple tools are its defining characteristics. Due to their poverty, farmers do not employ fertilisers or high-yielding seeds. Their output suffers as a result of their frequent lack of access to energy and irrigation.


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