Subsistence farming is a mode of agriculture in which a plot of land produces only enough food to feed the family working it. Depending on climate, soil conditions, agricultural practices and the crop grown, it generally requires between 0.25 and 10 acres per person.

Subsistence farming, by definition, produces only enough food to to sustain the farmers through their normal daily activities. Good weather may occasionally allow them to produce a surplus for sale or barter, but surpluses are rare. Because surpluses are rare, subsistence farming does not allow for growth, the accumulation of capital or even for much specialization of labor. The farming family is left almost entirely without implements or goods that it cannot produce by itself.

Contributing factors

In the absence of hired labor, the area of land that a farmer can cultivate each season is limited by factors such as available tools and the quality of the soil. If this land will not produce a surplus, due to the fertility of the soil, climate conditions, tools and techniques, or available crop types, the farmer can do no more than subsist on it.

Not all farmers have access to as much land as they can cultivate. Socioeconomic conditions may prevent an expansion of farming plots. If inheritance traditions require that a plot be split among the owner's children upon his death, plot sizes can steadily decrease.

Mitigation tactics

Many techniques have been attempted (with varying degrees of success) to help subsistence farmers to produce surpluses so the community can begin the path to economic growth.

Food aid can alleviate a short famine, but does nothing to solve the inherent problem of subsistence production. It is no longer considered a long-term solution.

Education about modern agricultural techniques has had some limited success, but not as much as was originally hoped. Many instructors discovered that their techniques depended on infrastructure, climate or resources which are not available in the subsistence community.

Another approach to education has been to provide the farmers with non-agricultural marketable skills. The implicit assumption is that the subsistance farmer will leave the community to seek employment in an area where greater resources are available. This technique has met with marginal success because it often ignores the human desire to stay with community.

Proper irrigation techniques can dramatically improve the output of farmland. Traditional irrigation methods can be extremely labor-intensive, wasteful of water, and may require community-wide infrastructure which is difficult to implement. There are new types of irrigation equipment available which are both inexpensive and water-efficient. Many subsistence farmers, however, remain unaware of the new technologies, are unable to afford them, or have difficulties marketing their crops after investing in irrigation equipment.

Genetically modified crops (ex. golden rice) can have higher nutrient content or disease resistance than natural varieties. This technique has been highly successful in some parts of the world, though the long-term ecological and epidemiological effects of these crops are poorly understood.

Microloans, loans of very small sums of money (often less than $2525), can enable farmers to purchase equipment or draft animals. Alternatively, microloans can enable farmers to find non-agricultural occupations in their communities.