Subsistence Agriculture

Subsistence Agriculture

It is found that a majority of Indians (about 70% at least) earn their living through agriculture. India is an agriculturally favorable nation and we have many types of climates and land areas across the country. The terms farming and agriculture are used as synonyms here, as they are not very different.The main idea is to learn about agriculture as a broader term and understand the types of agriculture practiced in India. Agriculture is a process of cultivation of crops, animal husbandry, pisciculture, agroforestry, etc.

Subsistence Farming 

Subsistence Farming is one of the first types of farming systems ever developed where farming is done on a small-scale for direct consumption by individuals, families or small communities. This is the commonest kind of farming as farmers earn a livelihood by farming and providing for themselves and their families. There is little or none of the produce left for sales to other areas or markets, as it is all consumed by the farmers. Subsistence farming is a type of farming where land holdings are small and fragmented. Since farmers are farming on their own, the methods and tools used for farming are primitive. 

Subsistence Farming was practiced because land holdings are small and scattered, scarcity of resources, poverty, large families to feed, lack of knowledge and infrastructure to scale to commercial levels. The farmers usually cultivate cereals, rice, oil -seeds, pulses, vegetables and sugarcane through this mode of farming. Subsistence Farming is still practiced in rural areas in India. Subsistence Farming is still practiced in Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, North-eastern states and Madhya Pradesh.

Types Of Subsistence Farming:

1.Primitive or Simple Subsistence Farming:

Primitive farming is the oldest form of agriculture and still prevalent in some areas of the world. From primitive gathering, some people have taken a step ‘upward’ on the economic ladder by learning the art of domesticating plants and their economy has moved into primitive cultivation.

The primitive subsistence agriculture or shifting cultivation is characterised by the following features:

  • Sites for the ladang are usually selected in the virgin forest by the experienced elders. Hill slopes are preferred because of better drainage. Many ladangs are located in the remote interiors, far from the main population centres.
  • This is partly for historical reasons as most shifting cultivators have been forced into less favourable areas by the expansion of more advanced farmers into the lower and better lands. Their isolation hinders their progress and makes the spread of new ideas more difficult.
  • The forests are usually cleared by fire and the ashes add to the fertility of the soil. Trees that are not burnt are hacked out by the men or left to decay naturally. Shifting cultivation is thus also called ‘slash-and-burn agriculture’.
  • The cultivated patches are usually very small; about 0.5-1 hectare (1-3 acres) scattered in their distribution and separated from one another by dense forests or bush.
  • Cultivation is done with very primitive tools such as sticks and hoes, without the aid of machines or even drought animals. Much manual labour is needed in land clearance to produce food for a few people.
2.Intensive Subsistence Farming:

The term, ‘intensive subsistence agriculture’ is used to describe a type of agriculture characterised by high output per unit of land and relatively low output per worker. Although the nature of this agriculture has changed and in many areas now it is no more subsistence.But despite changes the term ‘intensive subsistence’ is still used today to describe those agricultural systems which are clearly more sophisticated than the primitive agriculture. Sometimes it is also known as ‘monsoon type of agriculture’.

The main characteristics of the intensive subsistence agriculture are as follows:

  • Very small holdings:Farms have been subdivided through many generations so they have become extremely small and often uneconomic to run. An average farm in Japan is approximately 0.6 hectare (about 1.5 acres) but in India and elsewhere in Asia farms may be even smaller.

Individual peasants grow crops mainly to support their own families, though there is some surplus for sale in some areas. In China, however, rapid agricultural changes took place after the agrarian revolution of 1949 when the tiny farms were consolidated, under communist rule, into large collectives.