What is Subsistence Farming? Meaning, Characteristics and Importance

What is subsistence farming? Meaning, Characteristics and Importance

Humans have always looked for means to meet up with their food needs. In order to make sure that food scarcity do not hit them hard, they devise various means to make food available all year round for them. Various Agricultural practices are being adopted to meet up with food scarcity. In continents such as Africa where majority of its citizens are low income earners and rural dwellers, Subsistence farming seems to be in place.

What is subsistence farming? Subsistence farming is the act of growing crops, raising livestock and conducting other farming activities which is mainly for personal consumption. Subsistence Agriculture becomes necessary when farmers wants to make out a living from the proceeds of their farm, and the need for survival gives rise to such. This farming practice can be observed in some West African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and others.

Characteristics of Subsistence Farming

1. It is usually carried out on small plots of land

In most cases, even in the existence of surplus land, subsistence farmers can leave them uncultivated. They only take up small plots of land which can be easily cultivated by them and their family members or village labour. Some of the small plots of land used in subsistence farming are communally owned and obtained by the individuals. Others are family inheritance or bought by the individual. The size of the farm differs according to the pressure of the population of the land.

2. It is characterized by the use of local or traditional farming implements

Farming activities is conducted with the use of rudimentary farming equipments like; hoe, cutlasses, axes, shovel and knives. As a result of the use of such implements, only small areas can be cultivated, planted and weeded by the farming family.

3. Small Number of labour force

Subsistence farming is a low scale farming production system. It is usually undertaken by the family labour or village labour. At times, small number of people will spend more days cultivating the plot of land. This farming practice takes longer time to be completed as a result of this.

4. Local food crops are mainly planted

In this farming system, root crops such as yam, cassava, cocoyam, potatoes are grown mainly in the forest regions while grain crops such as guinea corn, sorghum, millets and groundnuts are planted in the savannah belts. The farmers cultivates enough to satisfy their needs, and produce what surplus they estimate they can sell, exchange or give to friends or dependents.

5. Domesticated Animals are mainly reared

In this farming system, small animals like fowls, goat, sheep are the mainly reared. Livestock rearing is mainly done with pasteur location which is dependent on the season.

6. Fish farming is done with crude implements

Fishermen who lives in the coastal areas makes use of crude equipments such as small throw net, spears, hooks of bent wood and bone and homemade basket traps. Baits such as worms are used. Small wooden canoes are paddled during the search for the fishes.

7. Farming practices such as shifting cultivation, bush fallowing and crop rotation is prevalent

When a piece of land is cultivated continuously, it can lead to the loss of nutrients in the farmland. In subsistence farming, some lands are equally left uncultivated especially when they are in excess. This gives rise to farming practice such as bush fallowing, shifting cultivation and crop rotation. Some of these lands are treated with domestic waste, and animal waste and some leaves and grasses such as compost to enable them regain their fertility. Others left for a long time can naturally regain their fertility.

8. Productivity and Output Levels are Usually low

The small size of farmland, usage of crude implements leads to low productivity. Also, the peasant farmers who only wants to satisfy the food needs of his family does not care about large scale production.

Importance of Subsistence Farming

This farming system is still beneficial as I discuss the various reasons below;

1. It makes food available for low income earners

It will not be surprising to hear that not everyone can afford some food products in the market. Some low income earners will not have any money left with them if they resort to buying all their food needs from the Market, thus, subsistence farming will help them in achieving their food needs.

2. It helps in the preservation of crop and animal species

A lot of animals and crops species would have gone extinct if not because of subsistence farming. Commercial farming most times focuses on quantity. In subsistence farming, quality is highly valued irrespective of the volume of output.

3. It serves as a means of earning and employment to the farmers

Most of the farmers that engages in this farming system at times sells their remaining farm proceeds after keeping for their family consumption. This acts as a source of income to them and enables them to purchase other things.

Some people that would have been unemployed are fully engaged in this type of farming practice.

4. It helps in the preservation of cultural farming practices

A lot of traditional farming practices would have been lost if not because of this system of farming. Some farming practices such as shifting cultivation, mixed cropping, crop rotation and bush fallowing are characteristics of this farming system. All these systems are notwithstanding beneficial to the ecosystem. Bush fallowing helps in the promotion of growth of some trees species which serves as wind breakers. It equally helps to check erosion.

5. It Promotes the consumption of healthy foods

Fresh and quality food products can easily be gotten from the farms. Such foods that are planted with organic manure are rich in nutrients and very safe for consumption. Those that couldn’t afford the expensive high foods in the market can comfortably get it from their farms.

Agriculture is a source of both domestic and foreign exchange earnings for many nations. Both subsistence and commercial farming should be given adequate attention. I hope I have answered your question on “What is subsistence farming?” Always check on us for more interesting updates!

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