Subsistence farming and types


Agriculture is the main economic activity and an essential productive endeavor for humankind, as stated by Prof. Zimmer Mann. The farming industry is categorized into seven types based on market demand, supply, and production. These include primitive subsistence farming, sedentary primitive subsistence farming, intensive subsistence farming, extensive commercial cultivation, plantation agriculture, mixed farming, and horticulture.

One of the categories is subsistence farming, which is discussed in detail regarding its description and types. Overall, agriculture is a crucial aspect of the economy and is divided into various categories based on different factors to meet market demands efficiently (1).

Farming is the process of growing plants and raising animals. It is a land-centered, development-oriented activity that enables permanent residents to meet their needs by cultivating crops and livestock.

Farming was key to the development of the rise of sedentary human civilizations, whereby the cultivation of domesticated species produced food surpluses that enabled people to live in cities. The history of agriculture dates back thousands of years.

In the 20th century, industrialized agriculture based on large-scale monocultures dominated agricultural production, although about 2 billion people still depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. So despite the advances in the modern-day industry, the spread of agricultural systems is vast. A type of farming method within agriculture is the topic of discussion here (5).


The type of agriculture that involves growing crops and raising livestock to meet the needs of the farmer and his family is called subsistence farming.


  • A type of farming where crops are raised for personal consumption is known as subsistence farming.
  • Subsistence farming is practiced in small areas.
  • This type of agriculture requires a lot of manual labor as well as the use of hand tools.
  • Subsistence farming is improved through the use of fertilizers.
  • This type of farming method depends on the monsoon.
  • Cultivation is done using conventional methods in this agriculture.
  • Before industrialization, there were many people who depended on subsistence farming to meet their needs.
  • In this agriculture the use of modern agricultural fields and methods is low, the holding size is small and manual labor, which may be family members of the farmers, helps in the crop production process.
  • The decision of the crop is based on the requirement of the family in the coming period and its market price.
  • Subsistence farming systems usually produce crops using only human and animal labor rather than machinery (2) & (5).

Types of subsistence farming

There are four types of subsistence farming.

1. Intensive subsistence farming

Intensive subsistence farming is a system of subsistence farming in those regions of the world where high population density, rapid population growth, easy access to labor, and limited agricultural land. It is the world’s largest economic enterprise. About 2 to 3% of the world’s population is directly or indirectly dependent on subsistence farming.


  • The amount of agricultural land in subsistence farming is limited. Lands are small, with different shapes and scattered types.
  • Capital investment in this agricultural system is less than required.
  • In this case, the need for modern machinery, advanced technology, skilled agricultural workers, etc. is less. hence, investment is also less.
  • This farming system is dominated by animal and muscle power.
  • Main advantage of this agriculture is that many people can earn a living by participating in this agriculture.
  • The overall profit margin in this agriculture is small.
  • A clear influence of the natural environment can e observed in this type of farming method.
  • The profit of this farming method is small. As a result, the standard of living of farmers is not very good.
  • Intensive subsistence farming system is mainly influenced by the natural environment. The productivity of this farming method depends on the arrival, stability, extent, and nature of the monsoon (3) & (5).

2. Nomadic herding

Nomadic herding is an agricultural system adopted by people who have no permanent accommodation in an area. This type of farming method usually depends on the climate. It is also known as pastoral nomadism.


  • Nomadic herding is one of the types of farming methods that move livestock from one place to another.
  • This type of farming method is the most extensive type of land use method.
  • It is the main source of livelihood for the African continent.
  • All nomads in nomadic herding are occupied and identified territory.
  • It is mainly a type of primitive subsistence farming method.
  • The primary cause for the nomadic herding of the nomads was to find fresh pastures for their pets.
  • Nomads move from south to north in summer and from north to south in winter in the tundra region.
  • In this farming method, there is no fixed schedule for nomads to travel from one place to another.
  • Nomadic herding is generally prevalent in regions with very little arable land in the developing world.
  • Such farming methods are mainly used to meet the needs of food production, clothing, shelter, and entertainment for the farmer’s family (5).

3. Sedentary farming

Primitive tribal groups living permanently in tropical hill and plateau regions farm the same land year after year in primitive and undeveloped methods depending on nature only for subsistence. It is called sedentary farming.


  • Sedentary farming systems are relatively advanced and less ancient farming systems.
  • In the system of sedentary farming, the same land is cultivated multiple times and cultivated for many years.
  • Sedentary agricultural lands are located close to settlements in sedentary agriculture.
  • Here advanced machinery is used and some organic fertilizers and chemical fertilizers are used.
  • In sedentary agricultural land, soil fertility is increased with organic fertilizers and crop rotation.
  • Sometimes it is left uncultivated for some time to increase the fertility of the land.
  • Such agricultural practices have the potential for soil erosion and environmental degradation.
  • The success of this type of agriculture depends on nature. Disasters such as drought, floods, diseases, and insects are particularly damaging to this agriculture.
  • Animals and muscle power prevail in this agriculture.
  • Agricultural laborers depend more on experience in farming.
  • The agricultural lands are smaller because the population density is higher (4).

4. Shifting cultivation

The primitive people, mainly nomadic tribes, live in very undeveloped and primitive farming practices. They create agricultural land by cutting and burning the forests in the mountains for subsistence only. And if the fertility of the land decreases after 2/3 years of crop production, they move to another place and do the same method of agriculture, that method of agriculture is called shifting cultivation.


  • Shifting cultivation is one of the oldest developed agricultural systems.
  • In the system of shifting cultivation, a field is abandoned after 3/4 years of continuous cultivation.
  • Shifting agricultural lands are scattered away from settlements in shifting cultivation.
  • This type of farming uses primitive machinery and uses no fertilizer other than ash.
  • In shifting cultivation there is no maintenance of the land. Cultivation is done for 2/3 years taking advantage of natural fertility.
  • This method of farming, the economic status is very underdeveloped.
  • Crop production is very low. Not everyone in the community collects food. For this reason, animals are hunted from forests, fruits are collected, and fish are hunted from rivers.
  • Shifting farming systems have been developed far from the locality in a plateau or hilly area, thus the scope for modern agriculture is limited here.
  • As a result of shifting cultivation to new lands, forests are destroyed, soil erosion increases, and environmental degradation increases (5).


  • Ancient methods of farming are practiced in this farming system. Sophisticated machinery and fertilizers are not used here. As a result, there is no adverse effect on the environment.
  • In this agricultural system, farmers produce crops to meet the food and financial needs of themselves and their families.
  • Agricultural lands are divided genealogically as they are located in densely populated areas.
  • The fertility of the soil the land will never be destroyed, and soil erosion will be stopped.
  • This farming method provides food security and health security.
  • Subsistence farming can increase food supplies and this cushions household from food price shocks, thereby improving household food security.
  • It creates an opportunity to continue living in a village.
  • Soil erosion can be prevented by applying this type of agricultural system. And the land will be saved from degradation (2) & (5).

Differences between commercial farming and subsistence farming


Commercial farming

Subsistence farming

1.     Definition

The modern agricultural system in which farming is done mainly for commercial purposes using more capital and more machinery on relatively large land is called commercial farming. It is an old-fashioned agricultural system that tries to produce more crops mainly for subsistence purposes by investing more labor and less capital on less land is called subsistence farming.

2.     Location

Commercial farming is noticed in temperate regions. These types of farming are found in tropical and subtropical regions.

3.     Labor

Commercial farming systems have low labor demand, but high wages. Subsistence farming systems have high labor demand, but low wages.

4.     Capital

It is high in commercial farming systems. Capital investment in this farming system is low.

5.     Production

Commercial systems have low production per hectare, but high per capita production. Subsistence farming has high production per hectare, but low per capita production.

6.     Area of land

The lands used in commercial farming systems are large. On the other hand, the lands used in subsistence farming are small.

7.     Equipment

Commercial farming systems are heavily mechanized and almost all of the machinery used is of the modern type. Subsistence farming systems use very little machinery and the small amount of machinery that is used is mostly old.

8.     Surplus crops

Surplus crops are abundant in commercial farming systems. The crops produced in this farming system are exported abroad. On the other hand, the amount of surplus crops in subsistence farming is not very high. Hence, the crops produced in this farming system cannot be exported abroad.

9.     Produced crops

Wheat, pulses, soybeans, etc. are cultivated in commercial farming. The main crop produced in subsistence farming is paddy. Apart from this, potatoes and jute are also cultivated (5).


1. What is subsistence farming?

A type of agricultural system where crops are raised for personal consumption is known as subsistence farming.

2. Approximately what percent of the population practices subsistence farming?

About 30% of the population practices subsistence farming.

3. What is the difference between subsistence farming and commercial farming?

Subsistence farming Commercial farming
Subsistence farming is practiced in small areas. On the other hand, commercial farming is practiced in large areas.
It depends on the monsoon. This agriculture is done on the basis of rainwater. This type of farming method uses a modern irrigation system.
Subsistence farming is cultivated using human and animal labor. In commercial farming, cultivation is done using machines.
In this farming system, farmers produce crops only for their own subsistence. In this case, farmers produce crops for commercial business needs.

 4. What is the definition of subsistence farming?

A type of agricultural system by which a farmer provides food for himself and his family members in a rural environment mainly for subsistence

5. What is the difference between commercial farming and subsistence farming?

  • Crop production in subsistence farming is mainly to meet the needs of the farmer and his family. On the other hand, the main goal of crop production in commercial farming is a commercial business.
  • Agricultural land is so small. But in the commercial farming system, the area of agricultural land is large.
  • Requires less capital investment. And capital investment in commercial farming is high.

Written By: Manisha Bharati

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