subsistence and commercial agriculture

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SUBSISTENCE AND COMMERCIAL AGRICULTURE. THERE are A LOT OF differences between subsistence and commercial agriculture and they are listed in the following order.

Subsistence and commercial agriculture are two primary modes of agricultural production, each serving distinct purposes and often existing side by side in various regions of the world. Here’s an overview of both:

It’s important to note that the choice between subsistence and commercial agriculture depends on various factors, including geographic location, land availability, access to resources, market conditions, and cultural preferences. Both forms of agriculture are essential and contribute to global food security and economic well-being

maize, corn, cropping systems. subsistence and commercial agriculture

Subsistence Agriculture:

Subsistence agriculture is a mode of farming primarily geared toward providing food and basic necessities for the farmer and their family. The key characteristics of subsistence agriculture are:

  1. Small-Scale Farming: Subsistence farming is typically small-scale and family-oriented. The land is cultivated to meet the immediate needs of the household, with little surplus for sale or trade.
  2. Diversity of Crops: Subsistence farmers often grow a variety of crops, including staple foods like rice, wheat, maize, cassava, and legumes, as well as vegetables and fruits.
  3. Low Mechanization: Subsistence farming relies on manual labour or traditional farming methods with limited mechanization or modern technology.
  4. Limited Surplus: The primary goal is to produce enough food to feed the family throughout the year. Any surplus is minimal and may be used for barter or sold at local markets.
  5. Self-Sufficiency: Subsistence farming aims to achieve self-sufficiency in food production. Farmers prioritize growing crops that can sustain their family’s nutritional needs.
  6. Low Commercialization: There is limited engagement in commercial activities, and the focus is on subsisting rather than profit-making.

Commercial Agriculture:

Commercial agriculture, on the other hand, is oriented toward producing crops and livestock for sale in local, national, or international markets. Key features of commercial agriculture include:

  1. Large-Scale Farming: Commercial farming often involves large tracts of land and significant investments in machinery, technology, and infrastructure.
  2. Cash Crops: The primary focus is on cultivating cash crops that have market value, such as cotton, soybeans, coffee, tea, sugarcane, and various fruits and vegetables.
  3. Specialization: Commercial farmers tend to specialize in the production of specific crops or livestock to maximize efficiency and profitability.
  4. High Mechanization: Modern farming equipment, technology, and practices are commonly used to increase productivity and reduce labour requirements.
  5. Market Orientation: The primary goal is to generate income through the sale of agricultural products. Commercial farmers actively participate in market-oriented activities.
  6. Surplus Production: Commercial farming generates surpluses of agricultural products that are sold in regional, national, or international markets.
  7. Profit Motive: Profitability and economic sustainability are key drivers of commercial agriculture. Farmers aim to maximize their returns on investment.

Coexistence and Interplay:

In many regions, subsistence and commercial agriculture coexist. Subsistence farming often serves as a safety net, providing food security for rural households. Commercial farming, on the other hand, contributes to economic development, generates revenue, and supports trade.

The transition from subsistence to commercial agriculture can be a significant step in rural development, as it can lead to increased income, improved living standards, and economic diversification. However, achieving this transition requires access to resources, training, infrastructure, and market opportunities.

difference between subsistence and commercial agriculture

Here’s an overview of both:

  1. Commercial Agriculture: Commercial agriculture refers to the production of crops and livestock for sale in the market. Its primary focus is on generating profit and meeting the demands of consumers. Key characteristics of commercial agriculture include:

a) Scale: Commercial agriculture typically involves large-scale farming operations, covering extensive land areas and utilizing advanced technologies and machinery for efficiency.

b) Specialization: Farmers often specialize in the cultivation of specific crops or the rearing of specific livestock, choosing those with high market demand or profitability.

c) Market Orientation: The main objective of commercial agriculture is to produce crops and livestock for sale. Farmers aim to maximize yields, quality, and profits by employing modern techniques, fertilizers, pesticides, and other inputs.

d) Access to Inputs: Commercial farmers have better access to modern agricultural inputs such as improved seeds, fertilizers, irrigation systems, and machinery. They often employ advanced techniques to increase productivity.

e) Distribution and Marketing: Commercial farmers are involved in post-harvest activities such as storage, processing, packaging, and transportation of agricultural products to markets and distribution channels.

f) Economic Impact: Commercial agriculture contributes significantly to the economy, creating job opportunities, generating export earnings, and fostering agricultural development.

  1. Subsistence Agriculture: Subsistence agriculture focuses on producing food primarily for the farmer’s own consumption and the sustenance of their family or community. Key characteristics of subsistence agriculture include:

a) Scale: Subsistence agriculture is typically practiced on small plots of land, with limited resources and technology.

b) Diversification: Farmers often grow a variety of crops and raise livestock to meet the diverse nutritional needs of their families or communities.

c) Self-sufficiency: The primary goal of subsistence agriculture is to ensure food security and meet basic needs rather than generating profits. Surplus production, if any, may be traded or sold locally.

d) Traditional Techniques: Subsistence farmers often rely on traditional and labour-intensive farming techniques, with minimal use of modern inputs or machinery.

e) Limited Market Engagement: The surplus production from subsistence agriculture is usually small and intended for local consumption or bartering within the community.

f) Socioeconomic Significance: Subsistence agriculture is prevalent in rural areas, where it plays a crucial role in sustaining livelihoods and supporting rural communities.

Although these differences can be very negligible but can be feasible to recognize. You can also read my article:

  1. characteristics of commercial agriculture
  2. Characteristics of subsistence agriculture
  3. Advantages and disadvantages of mechanized agriculture or
  4. cropping system

How to identify the differences between these types of agriculture through their characteristics

  1. one of the characteristics of subsistence agriculture is that a small land area is required
  2. the sole purpose of subsistence agriculture is to produce food mainly for the family consumption
  3. in subsistence agriculture, crude tools are majorly used due to the fact that advanced implements are very expensive to buy
  4. unskilled or manual labour is largely employed

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  1. in subsistence agriculture, returns or yield are very low
  2. subsistence agriculture requires very little capital to start
  3. subsistence agriculture does not require any strategic marketing ability
  4. there is no use of advanced pest and disease control methods in subsistence agriculture

. subsistence agriculture does require any formal education to embark on it

  1. building any large storage facility is not needed in subsistence agriculture
  2. subsistence agriculture is mostly practised in developing countries with lots of peasant farmers
  3. the practice of subsistence agriculture usually leaves the environment free of pollution
  4. there is low environmental degradation in subsistence agriculture
  5. the use of agro-allied chemicals such as herbicide and fertilizers are very minimal in subsistence agriculture

15. subsistence agriculture usually involves the mixed cropping system agriculture

  1. most often in subsistence agriculture, the use of farm records is absent
  2. specialization in subsistence agriculture is absent
    Now much has been said about subsistence agriculture, so let us look into how to clinically identify commercial agriculture. These are

understanding these two types of Agriculture

  1. in commercial agriculture, large areas of land are usually cultivated and mechanized
  2. commercial agriculture is mainly engaged for the purpose of sales and export
  3. complex modern tools and implements are used in the practice of commercial agriculture
  4. skilled labour is largely employed in commercial agriculture
  5. Commercial agriculture requires huge capital investment
  6. Commercial agriculture requires high marketing strategies
  7. Pest and disease control methods are largely employed in commercial agriculture
  8. Commercial agriculture requires special skill, education and technical know-how
  9. In commercial agriculture, storage and specialized facilities are needed
    they create more jobs and stimulate rural economies more than either big plantations or smallholder contract farmers. Yet cumulatively, such farms may threaten to dispossess smallholders,

Return on investment in commercial agriculture is very high, so let’s look at some major differences between subsistence and commercial agriculture. here are seven differences that make commercial agriculture different from subsistence agriculture

  1. Commercial agriculture is mostly practised by companies or rich farmers
  2. Commercial agriculture causes pollution
  3. Commercial agriculture most often leads to environmental degradation due to the use of heavy machinery
  4. In commercial agriculture, farming activities are usually accomplished through the use of agrochemicals
  5. In commercial agriculture, a mono-cropping system of farming is usually practised
  6. Farm records are kept to every detail in commercial agriculture
  7. Farmers usually specialize in crop or animal production in commercial agriculture


The practice of any of the above types of agriculture is largely dependent on the purpose of going into farm activity.

If the purpose is for sales and export, then the person involved will likely go into commercial agriculture but if the purpose is to produce food enough for family consumption, then subsistence agriculture is likely to be engaged.

If you have any questions regarding the difference between subsistence and commercial agriculture, please feel free to leave your comment and we will get back to you in no time.

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