Subsistence agriculture

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Image:Bakweri cocoyam farmer from Cameroon.jpg
Like most farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, this Cameroonian man cultivates at the subsistence level.

Subsistence agriculture (also know as self sufficiency) is a method of horticulture in which a plot of land produces only enough food to feed the family working it. Depending on climate, soil conditions, agricultural practices, and the crops grown, it generally requires between 1,000 and 40,000 m² (between 0.25 and 10 acres) per person.

[edit] Introduction

Subsistence agriculture, by definition, produces enough food to sustain the farmers through their normal daily activities. It is very often a harsh way of living, with little or no hope for improvement over time. Large surpluses are rare, and even then the farmers may not be able to sell their surplus crops because, as Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has argued, they often do not have clear title to the land which they work and to the crops which they produce. This lack of ability to raise significant funds, which can be used to start new businesses and trigger industrialization, is one reason that subsistence agriculture still exists today.

[edit] Mitigation tactics

Many techniques have been attempted (with varying degrees of success) to help subsistence farmers in producing surpluses so the community can begin the path to economic growth. Food aid can alleviate a short famine, but does nothing to solve the inherent problem of subsistence production, and thus is no longer considered a long-term solution.

Education about modern agricultural techniques has had some limited success, but not as much as was originally hoped. Many instructors discovered that their techniques depended on infrastructure, climate, or resources which are not available in the subsistence community. Another approach to education has been to provide the farmers with non-agricultural marketable skills. The implicit assumption is that the subsistence farmer will leave the community to seek employment in an area where greater resources are available. This technique has met with marginal success because it ignores the human desire to stay with community.

In recent years, some attention has been given to developing underutilized crops, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia.

Proper irrigation techniques can dramatically improve the output of farmland. Traditional irrigation methods can be extremely labor-intensive, wasteful of water, and may require community-wide infrastructure that is difficult to implement. There are new types of irrigation equipment available that are both inexpensive and water-efficient. Many subsistence farmers, however, remain unaware of the new technologies, are unable to afford them, or have difficulties marketing their crops after investing in irrigation equipment.

Genetically modified crops, such as golden rice, can have higher nutrient content or disease resistance than natural varieties. Using these crops has been highly successful in some parts of the world, though the long-term ecological and epidemiological effects of these crops are poorly understood. Microloans, loans of very small sums of money (often less than $25), can enable farmers to purchase equipment or draft animals that will help increase crop yield. Alternatively, microloans can enable farmers to find non-agricultural occupations in their communities.

[edit] Effects on the environment

Although subsistence agriculture is usually organic (often simply for lack of money to buy industrial inputs such as fertilizer, pesticides, and genetically modified seeds), it isn’t necessarily good for the environment. One form of subsistence agriculture is shifting cultivation, a practice common in the tropics. In this agricultural system, farmers typically abandon a given plot when soil fertility wanes and move on to more fertile land, often utilizing slash and burn techniques. A considerable fallow period ensues on the abandoned land.

Numerous tropical countries have acknowledged the adverse impacts of subsistence agriculture on biological resources; in many cases these agricultural practices, along with unlimited access rights to forests, have been the target of limitations through the countries' Biodiversity Action Plans.ca:Agricultura de subsistència de:Subsistenzwirtschaft es:Agricultura de subsistencia simple:Subsistence agriculture

Subsistence agriculture

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