What is Subsistence Farming? Exploring its Definition

Subsistence farming is a form of agricultural production that has been used for centuries in rural areas around the world. It is based on traditional methods and small scale farms, and it provides an important source of food security to many communities. In this blog post, we will discuss what subsistence farming is, its purpose, some examples, its history, its pros and cons, the differences between subsistence and commercial farming, why it’s still important today, and ways you can support local farmers who practice subsistence farming.

What is Subsistence Farming?

Subsistence farming is an agricultural system that involves growing crops and raising livestock primarily for self-consumption or sale within a local market. The main goal of subsistence farming is to produce enough food to meet basic needs and maintain a sustainable lifestyle with minimal external inputs. This type of farming usually takes place on small plots of land where the farmer lives, such as a family farm.

Definition of Subsistence Farming

The World Bank defines subsistence farming as “agricultural production carried out mainly by households which are largely self-sufficient in their consumption”. In other words, these families focus on providing for their own needs rather than producing for sale in the global marketplace.

Purpose of Subsistence Farming

The primary purpose of subsistence farming is to provide food security for individuals and their families. By relying on traditional methods and small scale operations, subsistence farmers are able to use natural resources efficiently without being exposed to fluctuations in the global market. Additionally, subsistence farming allows people to remain independent from large-scale corporate agriculture and develop strong connections to their local environment.

Examples of Subsistence Farming

There are numerous examples of subsistence farming across the globe. Some common examples include vegetable gardening in urban areas, rainfed dryland cereal cultivation in Africa and Asia, swidden (or slash and burn) practices in tropical forests, pastoralism in grasslands, and agroforestry systems in mountain regions.

History of Subsistence Farming

Subsistence farming has been practiced for thousands of years in various parts of the world. Traditional societies relied heavily on subsistence farming before industrialization began during the 19th century. After World War II, more efficient agricultural techniques were developed which led to a decline in subsistence farming in favor of larger-scale commercial operations.

Pros and Cons of Subsistence Farming

One major advantage of subsistence farming is that it provides food security for individual households without relying on imports from outside sources. Additionally, it allows people to stay connected to their local environment while minimizing negative environmental impacts associated with large-scale agriculture. On the downside, subsistence farming does not typically yield high profits due to limited resources and access to markets. Furthermore, it can be labor intensive and time consuming, making it difficult to compete with larger scale operations.

Difference Between Subsistence and Commercial Farming

The primary difference between subsistence and commercial farming lies in the end goal of each system. Commercial farming focuses on maximizing profits through the production of goods for sale in the global marketplace, while subsistence farming emphasizes meeting basic needs through self-sufficiency. Additionally, commercial farms tend to rely on mechanized equipment and sophisticated technology while subsistence farms employ traditional techniques and manual labor.

Importance of Subsistence Farming Today

Despite advancements in agricultural technology, subsistence farming remains an essential component of global food security. It ensures that individuals have access to locally produced food even when external factors make importing supplies challenging or impossible. Furthermore, it allows people to remain autonomous by controlling their own production and eliminating dependence on large-scale corporate agriculture.

def of subsistence farming

Ways to Support Local Farmers Who Practice Subsistence Farming

There are several ways you can help support local farmers who practice subsistence farming. You can buy directly from them at farmers’ markets or through community supported agriculture (CSA) programs. You can also volunteer your time or donate money to organizations that promote sustainable agriculture initiatives in developing countries. Finally, you can advocate for policies that prioritize access to safe and healthy foods for everyone.


In conclusion, subsistence farming is a traditional method of agricultural production that relies on small scale operations and manual labor. It provides food security for individuals and their families without relying on imports from outside sources. Although modern technology has made large-scale commercial agriculture more efficient, subsistence farming remains an essential part of global food security today. There are several ways you can help support local farmers who practice subsistence farming, such as buying directly from them or donating to organizations that promote sustainable agriculture initiatives.

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