What is Subsistence agriculture?

Subsistence is farming  for survival. Most of the food produced is used to support the farmers and their families. This is what most of the farming was like in early pioneer days. There are still a lot of subsistence farmers throughout the world. It is common in rural and poor regions of South America, Sub Saharan Africa,  and the middle east but it has also become a trend for former city dwellers who move out to the country.  There are also examples of subsistence farmers in urban and suburban areas.

What is subsistence farming?

While subsistence farming refers to the actual work of farming, subsistence agriculture refers to the broader field of subsistence farming and everything that goes into it to make it happen.

Subsistence farming vs Commercial farming

Subsistence agriculture focuses on small scale farms in order to produce enough food to be self supportive while commercial agriculture is usually large scale agriculture endeavors used to produce crops or products for sale on the wider market.

Types of subsistence farming

The three major types of subsistence  farming usually refer to the following:

  • Intensive farming, which includes planting of crops and ones own usually in rows, a chicken coop, and a couple corrals to keep rough livestock to support the farmers family
  • Shifting cultivation, this requires the clearing of forest often using slash and burn agriculture methods and starting new plots every couple  years
  • Pastoral nomadism. This is the type of farming that is usually done with traveling herds of animals going from field to field to find fresh grass for them to graze on.

What are some examples of subsistence farming?

Examples of Intensive subsistence farming are often remembered from the early pioneers like those depicted on the show “Little House on the Prairie”.  There are many subsistence farmers in rural communities like tribes of Sub Saharan Africa and mountain regions of South America.  Some religious communities such as the Quakers and Mennonites still use forms of intensive subsistence farming, but often they produce some surplus for sale to their communities.

There are examples of slash and burn farming methods of shifting cultivation on the edge of the forests and jungles of the Amazon and Central America.  Examples of pastoral Nomadism can be found in parts of Sub Saharan Africa, South America and the Middle east.

There are examples of some intensive subsistence farms in urban and suburban communities as well as some homesteads in rural areas outside of major cities.  These usually are supplemented by trips into town.

Why Is subsistence farming important?

The advantages of subsistence farming are that one can be self sufficient in areas that do not have a lot of resources.  It is a way for people who live in rural areas to survive and live in villages.  It also provides a relatively simple lifestyle without the need to travel as much or maintain commercial equipment.  It can have a smaller impact on the environment when practicing regenerative farming methods.

The disadvantages are that subsistence farming is very susceptible to changes in the climate, severe weather, or other destructive events.  It works when everything goes right. It can all come crashing down when blight, weather, drought, flood, plant disease, pests, or other tragedy hits.  It is usually dependent on the labor of the farmer and his family with whatever equipment or work animal they may own.  If someone gets injured or something breaks down, it can stop the whole operation.

Subsistence farming in small communities

Subsistence farming and community farms can be used to help supply urban food deserts. They can have mental and physical health benefits as well as be a source of education.

How many acres do you need for a subsistence farm?

A lot can be done on just a small plot of land that is less than an acre by using creative techniques such as no-till farming, permaculture, vertical farms, hydroponics, green roofs, and other

There are a number of tools available to help subsistence farmers from Government organizations like the USDA as well as specialized NGOs.



subsistence farming infographic
source: https://homesteading.com/subsistence-farming


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