farming in which farmers
grow only enough food to feed their family. The typical subsistence
farm has a range of crops and animals needed by the family to eat
during the year. Planting decisions are made with an eye toward
what the family will need during the coming year, rather than
market prices. Tony Waters writes: "Subsistence peasants are people
who grow what they eat, build their own houses, and live without
regularly making purchases in the marketplace."
Subsistence grain-growing agriculture
(predominantly wheat and barley) first emerged during the Neolithic Revolution when humans began
to settle in the Nile, Euphrates, and Indus River Valleys.
It was the dominant mode of
production in the world until recently, when market-based
capitalism became widespread. Subsistence horticulture may have developed earlier in
South East Asia and Papua New Guinea.
Subsistence farming continues today in large parts of up-country
Africa, and other countries of Asia and Latin America. Subsistence
agriculture had by and large disappeared in Europe by the beginning
of World War I
, and in North America
with the movement of sharecroppers
tenant farmers out of the American South and Midwest during the
1930s and 1940s. In Central and Eastern Europe subsistence and
semi-subsistence agriculture reappeared within the transition economy
Effects on the environment
Subsistence farming typically uses few fertilizers and no machines.
Instead the farmers may use draft
which can be fed and raised on the farm. Subsistence
farmers often rely on crop rotation
, and compost
to restore the nutrients rather than
purchasing expensive synthetic fertilizers. This agriculture can
limit the amount of growth in a season.
In areas which are sparsely populated, subsistence agriculture can
be sustainable for a long time. In more densely populated areas,
subsistence agriculture may deplete the soil of nutrients, and
damage the environment. However the traditional agriculture of East
Asia, for example the small-holdings of China, has been
described as sustainable, using extensive methods of cultivation
and despite high population pressure.
One form of subsistence agriculture is shifting cultivation
, a practice common with rain fed agricultural
systems. Farmers typically abandon a given plot when soil fertility
wanes and move on to more fertile land, often utilizing slash and burn
techniques. A considerable
period ensues on the abandoned
land. It takes up the least amount of land among the four types of
cultivation, but it only provides enough food for the local
- Tony Waters. The Persistence of Subsistence Agriculture:
life beneath the level of the marketplace. Lanham, MD:
Lexington Books. 2007.
- Goran Hyden. Beyond Ujamaa in Tanzania: Underdevelopment
and an Uncaptured Peasantry. Berkeley: University of
California Press. 1980.
- Steffen Abele and Klaus Frohberg (Eds.). "Subsistence
Agriculture in Central and Eastern Europe: How to Break the Vicious
Circle?" Studies on the Agricultural and Food Sector in Central and
Eastern Europe. IAMO, 2003.
- Charles Sellers. The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America,
1815-1846. New York: Oxford University Press. 1991.
- Howard, Sir Albert. (1943) An Agricultural Testament. Oxford University