Subsistence Agriculture

Subsistence Agriculture is the type of agriculture which is concerned with the production of food by a farmer to feed himself and his family.

In other words, subsistence farming is a system whereby a farmer cultivates crops and rears animals in order to produce food for consumption for himself and his family.

Characteristics of Subsistence Agriculture

  1. It is mostly practised by peasant farmers.
  2. Subsistence farming involves small portion of land.
  3. It involves the use of crude tools such as hoe and machetes.
  4. There is no specialisation.
  5. It employs unskilled labour.
  6. The returns or outputs are usually very low.
  7. It usually involves the use of family labour.
  8. It provides only for the basic needs of the family.
  9. There is little or no surplus for sale.
  10. There is also little or low capital involved in subsistence agriculture.
  11. It invloves mainly the production of food crops only.
  12. There is limited use if agrochemicals e.g insecticides and pesticides.
  13. Unimproved varieties of crops and breeds of animals are used.
  14. Mixed cropping system of farming is usually practised in subsistence agriculture.

Problems of Subsistence Agriculture

  • Family labour supply is unreliable: In the face rural-urban migration of able bodied men, it therefore results in the non-availabilty of family labour, especially the children to work on the farm.
  • Crude Tools are Used: This often result in low yield since the use of such tools has limits compared to the use of tractors, ploughs, harrows, etc.
  • Fragmented or small farmland: This is a major constraint as produce from such small farm holding is usually very small.
  • Illiteracy of the farmers: labour used for subsistence Agriculture has little or no formal education, resulting in their inability to read written instructions and adopt modern farming techniques.
  • No surplus for sale: This often keeps the farmer permanently poor, as he will not be able to generate enough capital to expand the size of the farm.
  • Inadequate Capital for Investment: This leads to small farm holdings and inability to buy farm inputs.
  • Low level of Specialisation: The subsistence farmer is often involved in the practice of of mixed cropping as against production of particular crop which could lead to specialisation.
  • Pest and diseases are not controlled: Owing to his poverty and illiteracy, pests and diseases are not controlled and these further lead to low yield.
  • Low Return/ Yield: As a result of low capital investment, illiteracy of the farmer, and small farm holding, the yield or returns from subsistence agriculture are usually very low.


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