What is intensive subsistence agriculture or farming?


All economic activity in the world is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture. This method is associated with the collection of resources directly from nature. As a primary activity, agriculture has a direct connection with people and the natural environment. The method of farming is different in every part of the world. One such significant agricultural method is intensive subsistence agriculture or farming.

The agricultural system is divided into 9 categories based on market size, crop production, crop demand, and supply. Intensive subsistence agriculture is one of the nine types. Such types of farming systems are mainly developed in rural environments.

The farmer provides food for himself and his family members by this agricultural method. Such farming methods have been developed in different natural and socio-economic environments only to meet the demand for food. Some of the interesting features of this agriculture and its economic importance are discussed below (1) & (2).

What is intensive subsistence agriculture or farming?

Intensive subsistence agriculture is defined as a system of subsistence agriculture in those regions of the world where high population density, rapid population growth, easy access to labor, and limited agricultural land.

In a word, intensive subsistence agriculture or farming is the labor-intensive agricultural system developed for livelihood and subsistence. It is the world’s largest economic enterprise. About 2 to 3% of the world’s population is directly or indirectly dependent on this type of agriculture (5).


This type of farming can be observed in most of the developing countries of the world. Equatorial, tropical, and subtropical regions are predominant in this type of cultivation. Intensive subsistence agriculture is practiced in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Vietnam, Egypt, Sudan, etc. (3).


1. Land type

The amount of agricultural land is limited. Lands are small, different shapes and scattered types. The amount of land per capita is limited due to the huge pressure of the population. As agricultural lands became divided among the heirs, they became small. Most of the agricultural lands are marginal in terms of size and production.

2. Workers

Workers are readily available in this agricultural system. Their wages are low. Most of the agricultural workers are deprived of land ownership. There is an outbreak of pseudo-unemployment in this agriculture.

3. Capital

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, so the investment in this agricultural system is less.

4. Instruments

Heavy instruments such as tractors, harvesters, etc. are not used in this farming method. In this case simple and old type’s instruments such as sickle, spade, plow, ladder, etc. are used. This farming is dominated by animals and muscle power. As a result of the slow spread of agricultural technology, there is a tendency towards modernization in the agricultural system. The overall profit in this agriculture is small.

5. Crop production

This agriculture has a low per capita yield. The amount of residue in the crop produced is less. Here the overall production cost of agricultural products is higher. Prices of agricultural products vary due to overproduction or low yield. In particular, farmers are economically disadvantaged due to overproduction. They do not get the proper price for the crop.

6. Domestic and international markets

Although some agricultural products are exported abroad for the economic purposes of the country, the demand and price of those products in the domestic market are mostly higher.

7. influence of natural environment

This agricultural system is mainly influenced by the natural environment. The productivity of agriculture depends on the arrival, stability, extent and nature of the monsoon. Floods in excess rainfall and droughts with little rainfall control the productivity of this type of cultivation.

8. Agricultural methods

Single crop or double-crop or multiple crops or wet or dry irrigated agriculture can be observed depending on the location of the agricultural land, the regional characteristics of the natural environment, and the skills of the agricultural workers. Paddy is the main crop of this agriculture.

To fulfill the growing demand for food, fish is farmed along with crop production in various places. Fish farming in canals, ponds, rivers, etc. provides additional food and additional income. Besides, cows, goats, ducks, and chickens are reared (1) & (3).

Economical uses

  • In this agricultural system, the farmers lack capital but they work hard. They can make a living through agricultural work.
  • This type of farming method is mainly developed in rural environments where farming is done by old and ancient methods. So both uneducated and experienced can do intensive subsistence agriculture.
  • As agricultural crops are produced for the livelihood of the farmers, the effect of an increase in supply and reduction of prices in the market does not affect agriculture.
  • This agriculture is predominant in areas where the amount of agricultural land is less and the population pressure on the land is high. Through the application of intensive subsistence agriculture, a large number of crops and some other crops are produced from a small amount of land.
  • Due to the adoption of scientific methods, unproductive land has become agricultural land. In addition, one cropland has been converted into two crops and three cropland.
  • With the help of this agricultural system, the production in agriculture has increased. The rainbow revolution has started in India with the help of this farming method. As a result of this revolution, the production of food (green revolution), milk (white revolution), fish (blue revolution), eggs, potatoes, fruits, oilseeds, etc. have increased many times.
  • Countries, where this farming method is prevalent, have become self-sufficient in crop production. In some cases, there has even been an overproduction of crops.
  • Research work is currently underway to increase the production of agricultural products. International research centers for various crops have been established. For example, there is an international rice research center in manila. As a result, high-yielding hybrid seeds are being discovered.
  • In this agricultural system, the amount of crop surplus is less. But due to a surplus of crops, its reserves have been built up in the country. As a result, if there is a deficit in crop production in any given year, there is a balance between supply and demand.
  • In this case, the export trade has increased with the help of agricultural products. Bilateral relations are established as trade with these national agricultural products expands (4) & (5).


Although the economic importance of intensive subsistence agriculture is quite high, it has some disadvantages. Such as-

  • Scientific technology is not used in agriculture. This farming method is done in an ancient way so the quality and yield of the crop is less.
  • The per capita production is also low due to less production and a high population on small agricultural lands.
  • Profit is less through the export of agricultural products. Therefore, the financial condition of the farmers has not improved.
  • Chemical fertilizers are applied in agriculture to increase production and it destroys the fertility of agricultural land.
  • The fertility of the land is gradually lost. So the texture and structure of the soil change. Then the upper land begins to erode. As a result, the land becomes more unproductive.
  • Cultivation in this method contaminates the soil, groundwater, surface water, etc. Eutrophication occurs in a mixture of ponds and other water bodies. The plants, fish, and other animals present in the pond die (3) & (5).


1. What is subsistence farming?

Subsistence farming is a method of agriculture where crops are cultivated in a small plot using primitive agricultural instruments and more labor. Advanced technology is not used in such farming. This type of agricultural method is done depending on the natural quality of soil and rain. Subsistence farming is mainly done during the monsoon season (1).

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

About 29% of the population practices subsistence farming. Subsistence farming is developed in rural areas. In order to make a living, farmers engage in agriculture as well as livestock and fish farming.

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


Subsistence farming

Commercial farming

1. Land type Here the lands are small. Lands are large in commercial farming.
2. Population pressure Population pressure is high on agricultural land. In this agricultural system, the population pressure on the land is less.
3. Amount of land per capita Here the amount of land per capita is low. The amount of land per capita is high.
4. Skilled workers Most of the workers are not skilled. They are illiterate, and most of them depend on experience. The workers engaged in this farming are well educated and skilled in the application of modern technology.
5. Wages of workers Worker’s wages are low in this type of farming method. In this case, the wages of the workers are much higher.


4. What is the definition of subsistence farming?

Subsistence farming is defined as a farming method in those regions of the world where high population density, rapid population growth, easy access to labor, and limited agricultural land (5).

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


Commercial farming

Subsistence farming

1. Location It is mainly done in less populated areas of temperate regions. This farming is mainly done in populated areas of the tropical regions.
2. Area of the land In this case, the lands are large in size. Here the lands are smaller than commercial farming.
3. Capital investment Capital investment in agriculture is more than required. Here, money invested in agriculture is less than required.
4. Influence of natural environment Human knowledge of technology plays a more effective role in agriculture than in the natural environment. This farming system is mainly dependent on natural activities.
5. Production costs Although the initial cost is higher, the production cost is lower in the next stage. The cost of production is high as a sufficient amount of money is required.
6.     Types of agricultural machinery Here farming is done in advanced technology. So modern agricultural equipment like tractors, harvesters, etc. is used in this farming method. Heavy machinery such as tractors, harvesters, etc. is almost never used in this farming. Old instruments such as sickle, spade, plow, ladder, etc. are used.

Written By: Manisha Bharati