What Is Subsistence Farming World History?

Subsistence farming is an agricultural practice that has been around for centuries. It involves growing crops and raising animals to meet the basic needs of a family or community. This type of farming is often done on small plots of land and with simple tools, without the use of modern technology.

History of Subsistence Farming

Subsistence farming has been practiced by various cultures throughout history. In fact, it was the primary method of agriculture for most of human history until the rise of industrialization in the 19th century.

Ancient civilizations, such as those in Mesopotamia and Egypt, relied heavily on subsistence farming to feed their populations. People grew crops like wheat and barley, as well as fruits and vegetables, to sustain themselves.

In Europe during the Middle Ages, feudalism was a common system that relied heavily on subsistence farming. Peasants worked on small plots of land owned by lords who provided protection in exchange for food and labor.

During the colonial era, European powers established plantations in their colonies to produce cash crops like sugar and coffee for export. However, subsistence farming remained prevalent among indigenous peoples who continued to grow crops for their own consumption.

Types of Subsistence Farming

There are two main types of subsistence farming: shifting cultivation and intensive subsistence agriculture.

Shifting cultivation involves clearing a plot of land by cutting down trees and burning them. Crops are then grown on the cleared land for several years until the soil becomes depleted. The farmer then moves on to another plot of land while the previous plot is left fallow to recover its nutrients.

Intensive subsistence agriculture involves cultivating a small plot of land intensively using simple tools like hoes and digging sticks. Farmers grow crops like rice, wheat, or maize using traditional techniques passed down through generations.

Challenges Facing Subsistence Farming Today

Despite its long history, subsistence farming faces many challenges today. Climate change, soil degradation, and the loss of traditional knowledge are just a few of the issues that threaten the sustainability of this practice.

Many subsistence farmers also struggle with poverty and lack of access to markets. Without the ability to sell their crops for a fair price, they may not be able to afford basic necessities like food, shelter, and healthcare.


Subsistence farming is an important part of world history and continues to be practiced by millions of people around the world today. While it faces many challenges, it remains a vital means of food production for many communities. By supporting sustainable subsistence farming practices, we can help ensure that future generations have access to healthy and nutritious food.