What is Subsistence Farming?

Definition: Subsistence farmings is an agricultural practice developed to sustain family groups or small communities. All crops, livestock and other food resources gathered through this activity are intended to serve the group’s feeding requirements and surpluses are either stored or traded through small community networks.

What Does Subsistence Farming Mean?

These type of farming activity is common in places with a traditional economic system. In modern times, there are a small number of countries (and even communities) that adopt this form of economic structure but it seems to be the normal in regions with low urban density, as is the case for some African villages. These activities include cultivation of crops, livestock raising, fishing and hunting activities, along with other primitive techniques employed to self-sustain the family group.

Commercial intentions in these type of economic activity are very low, since most of the proceeds are consumed by those who are directly involved. This is the case for less developed systems but there are also other more complex scenarios where small communities establish a network of suppliers or a centralized guideline that assigns each participant with the responsibility to provide a certain crop or livestock. In such scenarios, the individual or family group is accountable for supplying the community with a certain good (or even a service) that along with others increases the availability of different types of foods such as vegetables, meat, fish, fruits and others.


Gary is currently developing his thesis about how to increase the efficiency of traditional economic systems. In order to gain a more clear perspective about the challenges and positive elements of these schemes he traveled to Africa to gather first hand information about the way these communities function.

By living for a few months with a tribe called “Unotu” he learned that the “Chief”, a person responsible for the community’s well being was actually very familiar with economic laws and resource allocations techniques, although of course he didn’t know the academic basis of those subjects. Gary was able to identify an organizational process where the Chief assigned each community member a certain land extension and depending on the person’s talents and skills this individual honored his community by developing the pre-assigned activity successfully. All the proceeds from activities such as hunting and farming where brought to the Chief, who ensured adequate distribution to guarantee the community’s sustainability.