In recent history, agriculture has been the main source of the food we consume on a daily basis. In this lesson, we will explore the difference between industrialized and subsistence agriculture. We will also investigate the different kinds of subsistence agriculture that are practiced.
Types of Agriculture
Imagine a family farm on a small plot of land and a huge commercial farm that spans acres and acres of land. What do you think makes these two types of farms different? Although both of these farms are designed to produce food, they vary in the methods of production, the amount of food they produce and who consumes the food produced.
Although for most of human history our species has survived by hunting and gathering food, around 10,000 years ago, our ancestors started producing their own food. Agriculture is the term used to describe the act of growing crops and raising livestock for human consumption and use.
Since the development of agriculture, many different types of production have been implemented. Currently, agriculture is divided into two different types, including industrialized agriculture and subsistence agriculture. Let's explore and learn more about these two types of agriculture.
Industrialized agriculture is the type of agriculture where large quantities of crops and livestock are produced through industrialized techniques for the purpose of sale. The goal of industrialized agriculture is to increase crop yield, which is the amount of food that is produced for each unit of land. Crops and livestock made through this type of agriculture are produced to feed the masses and the products are sold worldwide.
Industrialized agriculture is able to produce large quantities of food due to the farming methods used. Instead of using animal and manpower to work the fields, industrialized agriculture utilizes large machines, which are more powerful and can work faster and harder. The shift towards machines has increased the use of fossil fuels on industrial farms, and, therefore, the price of food can fluctuate as the price of oil changes. Industrialized agriculture also increases crop yield by investing in large irrigation systems and by using chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
The chemical fertilizers that are used in industrialized agriculture often add inorganic nutrients to the soil to increase yield and plant size. The use of pesticides is also common in industrialized agriculture, and most pesticides help increase yield by killing pests that are harming or consuming the crops. Another farming technique that is used in industrialized agriculture is the method of growing monocultures, which is when a single crop is planted on a large scale. Although planting monocultures can increase overall yield, this method of farming is also more susceptible to disease and causes a reduction in the dietary variation of consumers.
Although industrialized agriculture is necessary to feed the growing human population, there is another type of agriculture that is regularly practiced today. Subsistence agriculture is when a farmer lives on a small amount of land and produces enough food to feed his or her household and have a small cash crop. The goal of subsistence agriculture is to produce enough food to ensure the survival of the individual family. If there is excess food produced, it is sold locally to other families or individuals.
Subsistence agriculture varies a great deal from industrialized agriculture in terms of the farming methods used. This type of agriculture is very labor-intensive because all of the work is done by humans and animals and only hand tools and simple machines are used to work the land.
Subsistence agriculture does not rely on chemical fertilizers or pesticides and instead utilizes more natural techniques. Most farmers have animals, including chickens, goats and cows, and the manure from these animals is used to fertilize the plants. The crops produced are then consumed or sold, and the inedible parts of the plants are used to feed the livestock. This creates a closed circuit within the farm where nothing goes to waste.
Instead of using chemical pesticides, subsistence farmers rely on natural predators of pests to control the pest population. Another major difference between industrialized and subsistence agriculture is what is being planted. Unlike industrialized agriculture that utilizes monocultures, subsistence agriculture relies on polycultures, which is when different types of crops are planted in one area. Planting polycultures is a method used to get the most crop yield out of a small area of land.
Kinds of Subsistence Agriculture
Although industrialized agriculture has replaced a large amount of subsistence agriculture, there are still many places in the world where subsistence agriculture is practiced. It is estimated that over one-third of people that live in Latin America, Asia and Africa rely on subsistence agriculture for their food supply. Currently, there are several kinds of subsistence agriculture that are still occurring. The most common type is intensive subsistence agriculture, which is often referred to as traditional subsistence agriculture. This type of agriculture is practiced in India, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mexico and Peru.
The crops are grown on a small plot of land year after year using human and animal labor. Intensive subsistence agriculture also utilizes manure as fertilizer and simple irrigation systems. For this type of agriculture, the most common crops are rice and vegetables, which are grown in the same fields using the polyculture method.
The second most common kind of subsistence agriculture is shifting cultivation, and this occurs in Brazil, Venezuela, Columbia, Nigeria, Senegal and Indonesia. Farmers that utilize shifting cultivation clear plots of the forest for planting and use the land for several years. When the land becomes less fertile, the farmers clear a new plot in the forest and begin growing in the new location. Although this type of agriculture does initially remove many trees, once a plot has been used by humans, it is left alone and can gradually return to a forest.
The third and least common type of subsistence agriculture is called pastoral nomadism. This type of agriculture is practiced in Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Mongolia. This type of agriculture is very different from the others because these farmers rely less on crops and more heavily on herd animals, such as cattle, sheep, goats and reindeer. The people travel with the herds and are never in one place very long.
Now, let's review the different types of agriculture, which is the term used to describe the act of growing crops and raising livestock for human use and consumption. First, we have industrialized agriculture, which is the type of agriculture where large quantities of crops and livestock are produced through industrial techniques for the purpose of sale. The goal of this type of agriculture is to produce large amounts of food for sale by using machines, chemical fertilizers, pesticides and monocultures, which is when a single crop is planted on a large scale.
The second type of agriculture is subsistence agriculture, which is when a farmer lives on a small amount of land and produces enough food to feed their household and have a small cash crop. The goal of this type of agriculture is to produce enough food to support the family and potentially have some left over to sell locally. In contrast to industrialized agriculture, subsistence farmers utilize humans and animals instead of machines, manure instead of chemical fertilizers and natural predators instead of pesticides.
Subsistence agriculture also relies on polycultures, which is when different types of crops are planted in one area. Subsistence agriculture is often divided into three different types, including intensive subsistence, which is the traditional method, shifting cultivation, which relies on clearing forest to create new farm plots every few years and pastoral nomadism, which relies on traveling with herds of animals.
Although industrialized agriculture produces the majority of food consumed on the earth, subsistence agriculture is still practiced in many regions of the world. Industrialized agriculture is important because it makes it possible to produce large amounts of food to feed the growing human population. Subsistence agriculture is equally as important because it provides food to people on the smaller scale and also involves a great deal of family participation and history in the production of the food.
After you've completed this lesson, you will be able to:
- Describe the methods used and the goals of industrialized agriculture and subsistence agriculture
- Explain the importance of industrialized and subsistence agriculture
- Differentiate between monocultures and polycultures
- Explain the three types of subsistence agriculture and identify where each is practiced