Cultivating Self-Sufficiency with Subsistence Farming in India

Updated on 09th April, 2024, By Arpit Srivastava
Cultivating Self-Sufficiency with Subsistence Farming in India
Subsistence farming is a farming method where farmers grow crops for their own consumption and not to be sold in the market. Its key features include traditional farming practices, small landholdings, low-input cost and low productivity.

Table of Contents

Understanding Subsistence Farming

Subsistence farming involves the cultivation of a field for meeting the personal or family needs of a farmer. It would not be wrong to say that this farming method is practiced for survival. Subsistence agriculture is a comprehensive field that involves everything related to the practice of subsistence farming. Even though it is the oldest form of farming, it is still prevalent across the world.

Subsistence farming is on the opposite spectrum of commercial farming. Farmers indulge in subsistence farming to produce food on small-scale farms, mainly for their own consumption. On the other hand, commercial farming is practiced on a large scale to produce crops and sell them in the market to earn money.

How is Subsistence Farming Practiced in India?

Farmers involved in subsistence farming do not generally use advanced machinery and tools. They use traditional tools and farm implements for land preparation and harvesting the crops. Thus, it is a highly labor-intensive and time-consuming method of farming. These farmers cultivate different types of crops to be self-sufficient. Examples of subsistence farming crops include wheat, pulses, maize, rice and cereals.

Most of the family members take part in this farming method. Thus, it is also known as family farming. Irrigation involves water supply from local reservoirs like ponds. Usually, rainfall is the major source of irrigation in subsistence farming. Whatever food is grown gets consumed by the family, and there is no surplus to sell on the market.

Advantages of Subsistence Farming

Subsistence farming is a key agricultural practice even though farmers are taking up commercial agriculture on a large scale. The following are the key advantages of subsistence farming in India:

  • Farmers are mostly dependent on organic manure to help maintain soil fertility. Using organic manure is an integral element of sustainable agriculture
  • This farming method is inexpensive as it does not demand high-cost input or modern machinery. Thus, it becomes a viable option for small farmers with limited resources.
  • Food security is ensured by subsistence farming for small farmers and their families. They get fresh food all through the year.
  • Self-sufficiency is promoted by this farming method as it allows farmers to meet their own food needs. It reduces risks related to market fluctuations and offers more control over crop production.
  • The foundation of subsistence farming is traditional knowledge and practices. Using these practices and knowledge by different generations helps preserve the culture of the region.

Characteristics of Subsistence Farming

Subsistence farming comes with a range of unique characteristics that make it different from other farming methods.

Diversified Farming

A variety of crops are grown by subsistence farmers. It includes different fruits, cash crops and vegetables. These farmers also prefer staple crops like wheat, maize and rice. Another key element of subsistence farming is livestock rearing.

Low-input Agriculture

Traditional farming methods are adopted in subsistence farming. Farmers rely on low-cost inputs like natural pest control methods, as well as animal and organic manure. There is a lack of access to high-cost inputs like pesticides, chemical fertilizers and modern technologies.

Small Landholdings

Subsistence farming is practiced in small plots of land, which is typically under two hectares. These farmers can own this land or rent it for cultivation. Also, they tend to depend on intensive farming techniques so that small areas can provide maximum yield.


Subsistence farming involves huge labor as few modern tools and equipment are used. Most of the work is done manually, which is also time-consuming. Family members are the common workers in the field.

Low Productivity

Subsistence farming is characterized by low land productivity. This is mainly because modern inputs and suitable fertilizers are not used. Also, it is practiced on a small scale, so the yield is low.


Subsistence farmers are hugely dependent on livestock for the majority of tasks on and off the field. They not only plough the fields but also act as a transportation medium. Also, their manure is a rich source of nutrients for the soil.

Types of Subsistence Farming

Subsistence farming can be practised using different methods based on the local conditions and resources.

Primitive Subsistence Farming

Primitive subsistence agriculture involves the cultivation of small patches of land. Family members or community labour is employed to grow crops using non-modern tools like dao and digging sticks. This farming method is impacted by several environmental factors like natural soil fertility and monsoon.

Shifting cultivation or ‘slash and burn’ farming clears the land by cutting and burning the trees. The next step is to mix the ashes with the soil. Crops like potatoes, cassava and maize are grown. When the soil turns infertile over the years, farmers move to a new patch of land for cultivation. In north-eastern states like Nagaland, Meghalaya and Assam, this method is also known as jhumming.

Nomadic herding is another type of primitive subsistence farming method. Farmers raise livestock like goats, sheep and cattle and move with them from place to place to find water and pasture. These animals provide several products like hides, wool, meat and milk to the herders.

Intensive Subsistence Farming

In this method of farming, farmers grow crops on small land with the help of more labour and simple tools. It is usually practised in regions with intense pressure on land due to high population. Irrigation and more biochemical inputs are used to obtain higher yields.

The main crop grown using this method is rice, while other examples include oilseeds, pulses, maize, and wheat. Farmers can grow more than one type of crop in a year if there is fertile soil and a sunny climate. They do not have alternative livelihood sources, so they exploit the limited land for maximum output.

Disadvantages of Subsistence Farming

While subsistence agriculture has some advantages, it also has certain disadvantages.

  • Loss of soil fertility and land degradation
  • Lack of access to resources and markets
  • Low productivity due to traditional farming practices
  • Lack of surplus limits the income of farmers
  • Limited scope for crop diversification

Even though subsistence farming offers many benefits, attention must also be paid to its demerits. Promoting modern farming practices and access to credit and the market is important to improve subsistence farming. These steps will go a long way in improving the productivity and income of small farmers.

Frequently Asked Questions On Cultivating Self-Sufficiency with Subsistence Farming in India

1. What is subsistence farming?

Subsistence farming involves growing crops and rearing animals only for personal use.

In intensive subsistence farming, farmers grow crops on a small plot of land using more labour and simple tools.

In primitive subsistence farming, small patches of land are cultivated by family members or community labour using non-modern tools like dao and digging sticks.

The other name for primitive subsistence farming is shifting or slash-and-burn cultivation.

Subsistence farming produces food on small-scale farms that is consumed by farmers and their members. Commercial farming is the large-scale cultivation of crops that are sold in the market for profits.

Farmers use traditional tools in subsistence farming as they cannot afford modern tools. Also, modern tools are not preferred as the land is small.

Subsistence farming flourishes in India because there is a lack of alternative livelihood sources and the presence of small landholdings.

Intensive subsistence farming is practised in India in states like Kerala, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.

Subsistence farming is important because of its advantages, such as food security, self-sufficiency, and low input cost.

The characteristics of primitive subsistence farming include small landholdings, low productivity, and the use of traditional tools.

Arpit Srivastava
Published By
Arpit Srivastava
Arpit holds a B.Tech degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from Babu Banarasi Das Northern India Institute of Technology. He is a professional content writer having skillset of writing top quality research based content for various niche and industries. With over 7 years of experience, he holds expertise in writing SEO-friendly content on a wide range of topics related to agriculture, tractors, and farm implements. In his free time, he loves to explore new places, try different cuisines, and play sports like cricket and badminton.
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