Subsistence Farming. Image credit

ZIMSEC O Level Geography Notes:Agriculture:Farming types in Africa: Subsistence farming

  • Subsistence farmers grow traditional crops such as maize, rice, sorghum, groundnuts, rapoko, millet and cassava.
  • They keep livestock in the form of cattle, goats, mules, donkeys, pigs and some poultry.
  • This is done on a small scale and in a very simple way.
  • The farmers use simple tools to prepare the land for farming, in weeding and at harvesting.
  • Equipment used include hoes, axes, ox-drawn ploughs, knives, fire and baskets.
  • The inputs on the farm are usually small in amounts.
  • Seeds come from the previous harvest and so have very low germination capacity.
  • Lack of money to buy tested hybrid seeds and artificial fertilisers inevitably leads to very low yields in subsistence farming.
  • To enhance production, some farmers use animal manure and ashes.
  • The farmers lack scientific methods of farming such as crop rotation.
  • This with time lowers the yields as the same piece of land is used for growing the same crop annually.
  • The family provides virtually all the needed labour for the production of crops but occasionally two or more families may come together and help each other when they need more labour than one family may provide.
  • In this type of traditional co-operative farming, payment is in the form of food and drink rather than in cash.
  • Storage of harvest is done either in the open or in make shift granaries of pole and dagga.
  • Such facilities crate problems in that ants, rodents, termites, fungi and the elements of weather destroy the harvests before consumption.
  • The main types are shifting cultivation and bush fallowing.
  • Both types involve what is called slash-and-burn agriculture.
  • Slash and burn agriculture is a widely used method of growing food in which wild or forested land is clear cut and any remaining vegetation burned. The resulting layer of ash provides the newly-cleared land with a nutrient-rich layer to help fertilize crops.
  • The term may be extended to include nomadic pastoralism and small scale sedentary farming in much of Africa, as long as the farmers survive on what they produce always.
  • This economy is at or below the poverty datum level.

Advantages of subsistence farming

  • The system employs large numbers of people.
  • It is a cheap system and not many expensive modern inputs are required.
  • It does not require foreign currency.
  • Burning kills weeds and some pests.
  • With multi-cropping on one piece of land, soil erosion is prevented.

Disadvantages of subsistence farming

  • It is labour intensive
  • Usually involves inefficient farming techniques
  • Very little money if any is generated from farming
  • There is limited production which means it does not meet the food, raw material needs of the country
  • Cannot take advantage of increased demand
  • It is usually rain-fed which means it is susceptible to droughts
  • Small yields per hector
  • Poor farming techniques are usually employed
  • Few varities of crop are grown

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