Advantages and Disadvantages of Subsistence Farming in India

19 Jun 2023
Advantages and Disadvantages of Subsistence Farming in India
Subsistence farming is a type of farming where farmers produce crops and livestock for their own consumption rather than for sale in the market. In India, it is characterised by small land holdings, low productivity, and traditional farming practices.

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Subsistence farming is a type of farming where farmers produce crops and livestock for their own consumption rather than for sale in the market. In India, subsistence farming is still prevalent in many rural areas, especially in the hilly and tribal regions.

One can define subsistence farming as something rooted in the principles of self-sufficiency and sustainability. This farming plays a crucial role in ensuring food security, preserving cultural heritage, and sustaining rural livelihoods.

This blog is a step towards gaining critical insights about subsistence farming and exploring its meaning, benefits, and demerits.

What is Subsistence Farming?

If we were to define subsistence, it means the state of existing or supporting life. Subsistence farming, often referred to as traditional farming, is a small-scale agricultural practice where farmers cultivate crops and rear livestock to meet the basic needs of their families or local communities.

Unlike commercial farming, the primary focus of subsistence farming is not on profit generation but on ensuring food security and sustaining livelihoods.

Subsistence Farming in India

Subsistence farming in India is characterised by small land holdings, low productivity, and traditional farming practices. Farmers usually grow a variety of crops, including rice, wheat and pulses, and rear animals like cows, goats, and chickens.

The use of modern technology and inputs like fertilisers, pesticides, and irrigation is limited due to the high cost and lack of awareness.

Small land holdings make it difficult for farmers to adopt modern farming practices and achieve economies of scale.

Subsistence farming in India relies heavily on the monsoon rains for irrigation, which can be unpredictable and unreliable. Therefore, several government initiatives have been started to support subsistence farming in India, including:

  • Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY)
  • Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY)
  • Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY)
  • National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA)

Types of Subsistence Farming

Subsistence farming can be practised using different methods, depending on the local conditions and resources. We will learn about the multiple types of subsistence farming in this section.

Primitive Subsistence Farming

Subsistence Farming Types - Primitive

Primitive subsistence agriculture, also known as slash-and-burn agriculture or shifting cultivation, is a traditional farming method that involves clearing a piece of land, burning the vegetation, and planting crops in the ash-enriched soil.

Key Features of Primitive Subsistence Farming

Primitive subsistence agriculture is characterised by several characteristics distinguishing it from modern farming practices. These include:

  • Dependence on Nature: Primitive subsistence farming is highly dependent on nature, including rainfall, soil fertility, and climate, which can be unpredictable and affect crop yields.
  • Crop Diversity: Farmers grow a variety of crops, including cereals, pulses, vegetables, and fruits, to meet their dietary needs.
  • Low Productivity: Traditional farming practices, such as slash-and-burn cultivation and lack of modern inputs like fertilisers, result in low productivity and poor yields.

Intensive Subsistence Farming

Subsistence Farming Types - Intensive

Intensive subsistence farming is a farming method that involves the cultivation of a small plot of land using high inputs of labour, fertilisers, and other modern inputs like irrigation, pesticides, and mechanisation.

Key Features of Intensive Subsistence Farming

Intensive subsistence farming is different from other farming methods due to characteristics like:

  • Modern Inputs: Intensive subsistence farming uses modern inputs like fertilisers, irrigation, pesticides, and mechanisation to increase productivity and yields.
  • High Labor Input: Intensive subsistence farming requires high inputs of labour, with farmers and their families working on the farm for long hours.
  • High Productivity: The use of modern inputs like fertilisers, irrigation, and mechanisation increases productivity and yields.

Advantages of Subsistence Farming

In a world dominated by large-scale commercial agriculture, subsistence farming remains a vital practice. The following are the key advantages of subsistence farming in India:

Sustainable Farming Practices

Subsistence agriculture is based on sustainable farming practices. Farmers mostly use organic manure and traditional farming methods, which help maintain soil fertility and prevent soil erosion. This ensures that the land remains productive for years to come.

Low Input Cost

Subsistence farming requires low input costs as the farmers use traditional methods and tools for farming. They do not have to buy costly machinery or fertilisers, which helps reduce production costs. This makes subsistence agriculture a viable option for small farmers with limited resources.

Food Security

Subsistence agriculture ensures food security for the farming family. The farmers produce food crops and livestock for their own consumption, which means they have access to fresh and nutritious food throughout the year. This helps in reducing the dependence on external sources for food and ensures that the family has enough to eat.


Subsistence farming promotes self-sufficiency as farmers grow crops and raise livestock to meet their own needs. By reducing dependence on external markets, subsistence farmers have more control over food production. Also, they become less susceptible to market fluctuations or price volatility.

Preserves Traditional Knowledge

Subsistence agriculture is based on traditional knowledge and practices. Farmers pass on their knowledge and skills to the next generation, which helps in preserving traditional knowledge and practices. This ensures that the culture and heritage of the region are preserved.

Environmental Conservation

Since subsistence farming is typically practised on a small scale, farmers tend to have a closer connection to their land and adopt sustainable farming methods. They often rely on organic farming techniques, natural fertilisers, and crop rotation, leading to minimal use of synthetic chemicals and reduced environmental impact. This helps in conserving soil fertility and biodiversity.

Disadvantages of Subsistence Farming

While subsistence agriculture has some advantages, it also has certain disadvantages. Check out the main disadvantages of subsistence farming in India:

Limited Access to Resources

Subsistence farmers often face challenges accessing essential resources such as land, water, seeds, fertilisers, and modern agricultural technologies. Limited access to credit, market information, and extension services further hinders their ability to improve productivity and income.

Subsistence farming is often practised in remote and hilly regions where there is a lack of infrastructure. Farmers do not have access to modern tools and machinery, which limits their productivity. They also do not have access to markets, which limits their ability to sell their produce.

Vulnerability to Risk

Subsistence farmers are highly vulnerable to various risks such as crop failure, natural disasters, pests, and diseases. Since their livelihood depends solely on the success of their farming activities, any adverse event can significantly impact their well-being and food security.

Subsistence farming is vulnerable to climate change. Farmers depend on rain-fed agriculture and are often affected by droughts and floods. This makes them susceptible to crop failures and food shortages.

Low Productivity

Subsistence farming is characterised by low productivity. Farmers grow only enough food for personal consumption, which means they do not have any surplus to sell in the market. This limits their income and makes them vulnerable to poverty.

One of the main challenges of subsistence farming is the limited surplus production beyond the needs of the household. This can hinder economic growth and restrict the ability of farmers to generate income or participate in market-based activities. Also, it can result in reduced investment in farm infrastructure and technology.

Poverty & Rural Migration

Subsistence farming is prevalent in rural areas, and the limitations associated with it can contribute to poverty and rural-urban migration. The lack of income-generating opportunities may force farmers and their families to seek better livelihood prospects in urban areas. It can lead to demographic shifts and social challenges in rural communities.


To conclude, subsistence farming has its advantages and disadvantages. While it ensures food security and promotes sustainable farming practices, it is characterised by low productivity, lack of infrastructure and vulnerability to climate change. To overcome such challenges, it becomes essential to promote modern farming practices, provide access to markets and infrastructure, and promote innovation in agriculture. This will help in improving the productivity and income of small farmers and ensure food security for all.

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