Intensive Subsistence Farming Advantages What It Is And Why It Is Used

Intensive Subsistence Agriculture

polyculture of corn and green beans
polyculture of corn and green beans

Intensive Subsistence Agriculture Definition

When someone participates in intensive subsistence farming, nearly all of the crops and livestock getting produced get used for sustaining their family.

It is rare for the farmers to produce enough crops or livestock to sell for cash or store for later use.

Because of the lack of financial resources created in subsistence farming, primitive farming tools and only family labor are generally available to the farmer.

Farming inputs like fertilizers and pesticides do not get used very much in subsistence farming. Not having these inputs prevents the farmers from maximizing the size of their harvest.

In intensive subsistence farming, some fertilizers, primarily manure, are included to try and help maximize crop production. The farmers will also usually use techniques like double and continuous cropping techniques. These techniques help to ensure that non of the land space is not getting utilized for crop production.

Subsistence farming has primarily disappeared in North America since the 1930s in favor of the mass production of monocultures.

Where is intensive subsistence agriculture found?

Intensive subsistence agriculture gets primarily practiced in Africa, Latin America, Central, East Europe, and Southeast Asia.

It is believed that only 10 percent of the world's land area is getting used to producing this type of farming. While it only makes up 10 percent of land usage, it supports over half of the world population's food source.

Intensive subsistence agriculture examples

What are examples of intensive subsistence farming?

Intensive subsistence farming types

  • Wet Paddy Farming
  • Non-Paddy Crops

Crops grown in intensive subsistence farming

Intensive subsistence agriculture gets dominated by two different types.

The first is wet paddy farming. For wet paddy farming, rice seeds get sown into small seedbeds. Once they reach the seedling stage, they get transplanted by hand to a paddy field.

The plants need constant irrigation until the rice ripens. Paddy farming is very labor-intensive.

The second grouping of crops used in subsistence farming gets dominated by crops like wheat, pulses, maize, millets, sorghum, legumes, tubers, and vegetables. Farmers will usually mix multiple crop types in the field, helping to reduce the chance of total crop failure.

Technology essential for intensive subsistence agriculture

The tools used in intensive subsistence agriculture are incredibly primitive.

No machines get used, and fields require all tending to get done by manual labor.

Common Tools Used

  • Hand Sickle
  • Shovel & Spade
  • Sticks
  • Axe
  • Pickaxe
  • Hoe

Intensive subsistence farming features

  • Very Small Farming Land Usage
  • Farming is Intensive
  • Limited Use of Animal and Plant Manures
  • A high degree of Diversification
  • Low yields, high crop rate failures
  • Limited use of purchased inputs

Very Small Farming Land Usage

The size of land used is minimal, anywhere from .25 to 10 acres.

Farming is Intensive

Because of the lack of automated farming machinery, farmers have to provide a lot more manual labor to tend to their fields.

Animal power gets relied on much more when available to the farmer compared to primitive subsistence agriculture.

Limited Use of Animal and Plant Manures

Intensive subsistence farming will use more fertilizers compared to primitive subsistence agriculture.

But the inputs of fertilizers are still very minimal.

A high degree of Diversification

Unlike large-scale farming used in first-world countries that focus on monocultures, subsistence farmers will mix multiple crops like annual and perennial types.

Using multiple crop types helps to keep the soil fertility at a higher level compared to fields utilizing monocultures.

It also helps to protect the farmer from total crop failure.

Low yields, high crop rate failures

Because of poor farm management and limited agriculture farming practices getting used, the harvests output does not get maximized.

High crop failure rates are also typical because of unfavorable climatic conditions and disease and damage from pests.

Subsistence farming gets its water from natural weather conditions. The farms do not use irrigation facilities, and so the farmers have no way to mitigate erratic weather patterns.

Limited use of purchased inputs

Due to the location of farms and limited financial resources, purchased inputs are almost nonexistent.

Purchased seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides are almost nonexistent in subsistence farming.

Subsistence intensive farming advantages and disadvantages

Pros of subsistence intensive farming

  • 1) It is Cheaper No large investments are needed. From the land to many of the tools are not paid for by the farmers.
  • 2) No Hiring of Labor The labor involves in these farms uses their families. No outside workers get hired for the production of crops.
  • 3) A Ready Source of Employment Because of the basic tools in use, the methods can get taught to anyone very quickly. There is no need for schooling to open up the technique to almost anyone.
  • 4) Source of Food Supply for the Family The main advantage can feed your family while living in such remote areas.
  • 5) Do Not Use Monocultures Multiple crop types get planted together, helping to keep the land's biodiversity.

Cons of subsistence intensive farming

  • 1) Loss of biodiversity While multiple crop types will get planted together, there are generally fewer plants than what would naturally grow on the land.
  • 2) Invasion of Marginal Wetlands Increasing demand for farmable land has resulted in subsistence farmers cultivating marginal and wetland areas that were not traditionally cultivated.
  • 3) Increased crop disease and pests Soil-borne disease and pathogens have been shown to get increased in severity as soil nutrient levels get depleted. Seed-borne pests can also become rampant since farmers rely on informal sources of seeds. Because farmers are not using a certified seed network, seed-born diseases and problems can quickly get distributed across the entire area.
  • 4) Depletion of soil fertility The continuous cropping methods used and the lack of fertilizers result in depletion of the soil fertility over time. Poor tillage usage is also responsible for interfering with the biological process that typically sustains soil fertility reducing the soil's ability to support plant growth.
  • 5) Land Shortages As the population continues to increase, farm sizes and their productivity is steadily decreasing. Many farmers involved in subsistence agriculture do not have a clear title to the land they are cultivating, posing a considerable constraint on sustainable subsistence agriculture development. Dependent on Rainfall Because of the location and most farmers who perform this method are pretty poor, irrigation is not an option. Not having the ability to add irrigation makes the farmers overly reliant on the weather.


Intensive subsistence farming has a long history of producing food for a farmer's family.

Only 10 percent of the world's land is still using this technique, but it provides food for close to half of the world's population.

The reduced use of machine equipment, fertilizers, and pesticides makes tending to the field labor-intensive and does not maximize the harvest compared to monoculture farming.

Improved crop varieties, fertilizer and pesticides, and better farm equipment all have a high potential to enhance the productivity and profitability of subsistence farmers.

Unfortunately, most subsistence farmers are not in a financial position to take advantage of all these improvements.

Similar Articles

Intercropping and_Crop Rotation
Green Manure For Clay Soil
Monoculture Farming Benefits and Disadvantages
Polyculture Farming