Skip to main content






What is subsistence farming?

The traditional agriculture or subsistence farming conveys part of its meaning. The word traditional means to do things the way they have usually been done. Since the way of doing things differ from country to country, therefore, the nature of agriculture operation carried on traditionally differ greatly from one location to another.

The term subsistence farming refers to self contained and self sufficient unit where most of the agricultural production is consumed and some may be sold in local market is sold. The goods produced by the farmer is only for family food i.e wheat, maize etc. There is a direct and close relationship between production and consumption. The goal of productive agricultural activity is family survival. The subsistence farming is for subsistence living.

In most of the LDC's including Pakistan, the land holding is gradually decreasing with the increase in population. The agriculturists particularly in remote areas are using old techniques of production. The goal of the productive activity of the majority of the farmers in cultivation is family survival. The farmers, are working for subsistence living.

Characteristics of subsistence farming

The main characteristics of traditional or subsistence farming in brief are as under.

(1) Land use

. Traditional farms are very small usually only 1 to 3 hectares. The goods produced on these small farming units is used mainly for consumption of the family. The consumption survival considerations dominate the commercial ones.

(2) Labour

. Labour used per hectare tends to be high in traditional farming. Mostly the family labour works on the subsistence farms. However the traditional farms may hire some labour during the busy time of the year. Family farm members may and do supplement their income by working off the farm part during slack times.

(3) Power and transport.

 In many countries including Pakistan livestock is the main source of power. They plough the field, transport products and carrying out processing tasks like grinding sugar cane. The level of technology mostly used is simple and less productive.

(4) Productivity and efficiency

. The subsistence farming or traditional farms are characterized by low of inputs which are mostly provided by the farmer himself . For example seeds, cow dung manure etc are not purchased by the farmers. Yields per hectare, production per person and overall productivity tend to be low.

(5) Rationality and risk.

 The traditional farmers are economically rational. They can be motivated to raise standard of living. The subsistence farmers are not adverse to changes but proposed changes must fit in into their current farming operations. The traditional farmers are now mentally ready to take risks of using modern inputs into their small scale farming operations.

(6) Income and level of living.

 The income and level of living of the subsistence farmers is mostly below poverty line.

(7) Decision making freedom.

The subsistence farmers have narrow limits on decision making. His degree of freedom both on the farm and in the home is extremely restricted.

(8) Role of livestock.

Scroll to Continue

Livestock play important role in traditional farming system. Farm animals provide a special protection to farm families. Animals are like saving banks.  Farmers invest surpluses in them. When they grow, they can be sold or consumed during crop failure or for expenditure on marriages etc. The meat milk and eggs, etc are available free to the subsistence farmers.

(9) Fertilizer, fuel, hides.

Animal manure is an important source of both fertilizer and fuel in many LDC's. Clothing and blankets are mostly made from animal hides and sheep hairs.

(10) Social and cultural reasons.

In traditional farming cattle, goats, horses, camels etc are highly valued in many LDC's for social and cultural reasons. A family's social status is measured by the number and kind of animals he owns.

(11) Degree of outside contract.

 The subsistence farmers have less contract with the persons living in adjacent villages.

(12) Huge wastages of resources.

In subsistence farming there is much wastage of resources and production due to the use of unscientific method of production lack of transport shortage of storage facilities.

(13) Element of uncertainty.

 In subsistence farming the element of uncertainty is very high. The failure of one or more than one major crop ruins the farmer.

Subsistence farming to commercialized farming

Transformation of subsistence agriculture to commercialized farming is in two stages which are!

(1) The transition of subsistence to mixed & diversified farming.

(2) The transition of diversified farming to specialized & commercialized farming.

1. In first stage of transition. Just two cash crops (fruits, vegetables, silver fiber (cotton) tea or), simple animal, husbandry is introduced in diversified farm activities. At this stage of transition idle unutilized land and slack labour hour are exploited and better seeds, fertilizers and improved irrigation are used, Diversification reduces the element of ''Risk & Uncertainty'' regarding income. There is some marketable surplus which is to be sold in the market. At the stage of transformation, the output is for both self consumption and market purposes:

2. In the final stage of transformation of subsistence to modern commercialized farming.'' it is transformed from divergence to specialization.

The specialized farm represent the final & most advanced stage of agricultural farming. This stage is generally characterized by high level of living, biological, chemical and technological innovations including variety of high yield hybrid seeds, more use of fertilizers and insecticides and ultra modern mechanized techniques of production. This stage of agricultural development is also characterized by expansion of national (domestic) and international market. At this stage, capital formation, technological advancement, scientific research play a vital role in the promotion of agricultural output and product is entirely for market (commercial) purposes.

Factors promoting commercialized farming

Now let us examine the various factors which promote the transition of subsistence farming to modern commercialized farming & green revolution.

(i) Use of chemical, biological and technological innovations can assist in the transformation of subsistence farming to modern commercialized farming with the help of use of variety of high yield hybrid (H.V.Y) seeds, chemical fertilizers & other insecticides and use of huge tractors, thrashers etc. All these factor raise agricultural productivity.

(ii) Another important factor which promotes the transition of backward subsistence farming to modern dynamic farming is the ''Provision of SOC's and other social service including road rail, transport, and other means of communication which enlarge the extent of market and enable the farmer to dispose off his surplus output to the market places.

(iii) Provision of better inputs at suitable or subsidized rates at proper time also lift in the transformation of subsistence agricultural sector.

(iv) Improved irrigations system (canals, tube wells etc) also help in promotion of agricultural sector's because with improved irrigation facilities more land is brought under cultivation. So total output increases the productivity & performance of existing cultivated land also improves.

(v) In order to promote the transformation of subsistence agriculture sector to modern commercialized sector, changes in defective land tenure system should be brought about through land reforms. It will raise the productivity of agricultural sector as tenant & farmers cultivate land with more devotion, hard work and security.

(vi) Government can also assist in the transformational phenomena of agricultural sector by providing supervised credit facilities to poor farmers through improved financial institutions. Government should supply required inputs in time and stabilized the prices of agricultural products with market.

(vii) Terms of trade should not be such that they adversely influence the agricultural sector and tax structure should be of such a type that it does not discourage the farmers.

(viii) The provision of health training and education facilities also improve the efficiency & health of farmers engaged in subsistence farming.

(ix) The construction of dams provision of cheap electricity to tube wells curing of water logging and salinity also help in the transformation of subsistence to commercialized farming.

(x) Last but not the least is ''undertaking of investment which leads to increase in the area of cultivation also assist in the transformation of subsistence (traditional) backward agriculture sector to modern commercialized farming.


typer on December 12, 2019:

not very good point

Khushi on January 10, 2018:


Cedric on March 03, 2016:

Was very helpful and had exactly what I required for my study. Thank You

Brekziijiltex on February 26, 2016:


George on December 10, 2015:

Very informative

felix owino on October 16, 2015:

very nice thank you

Dileep singh on September 14, 2015:

Very nice and to the point matter,...

anila malik on April 24, 2015:

very niceeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee article

Umer Waheed on March 06, 2014:


jack on November 15, 2012:

i like your ideas but ...........

Related Articles