Intensive Farming vs. Subsistence Farming

What's the Difference?

Intensive farming and subsistence farming are two contrasting agricultural practices. Intensive farming involves the use of modern technologies, machinery, and high inputs of fertilizers and pesticides to maximize crop yields and animal production. It is typically practiced on large-scale commercial farms with the aim of generating surplus food for sale in the market. On the other hand, subsistence farming is a traditional method where farmers cultivate small plots of land to produce enough food to feed their families. It relies on manual labor, simple tools, and traditional farming techniques. While intensive farming focuses on profit and high productivity, subsistence farming prioritizes self-sufficiency and meeting basic food needs.


Intensive Farming
Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur on Unsplash
AttributeIntensive FarmingSubsistence Farming
DefinitionHighly mechanized and efficient farming system that aims to maximize productivity and yield.Agricultural practice where farmers focus on producing enough food to meet the needs of their own families.
ScaleLarge-scale operations with extensive land use and high input of resources.Small-scale operations with limited land use and low input of resources.
TechnologyRelies heavily on advanced machinery, irrigation systems, and chemical inputs.Relies on traditional farming methods and simple tools.
OutputHigh output and productivity due to intensive use of resources and technology.Low output as the focus is on self-sufficiency rather than commercial production.
LabourRequires less labor due to mechanization and automation.Relies heavily on manual labor and family members.
IncomeCan generate significant income through commercial production and selling surplus.Income is limited as the primary goal is self-sufficiency.
Environmental ImpactCan have negative environmental impacts due to intensive use of chemicals and land degradation.Generally has a lower environmental impact as it focuses on sustainable practices.
Food SecurityCan contribute to food security by producing large quantities of food for a growing population.Provides food security at the household level by producing enough for personal consumption.
Subsistence Farming
Photo by Joshua Gaunt on Unsplash

Further Detail


Farming has been a fundamental practice for human survival and sustenance since ancient times. Over the years, different farming methods have emerged to meet the growing demands of an ever-increasing global population. Two prominent farming systems that have evolved are intensive farming and subsistence farming. While both methods aim to produce food, they differ significantly in their approach, scale, and impact on the environment and society. This article will delve into the attributes of intensive farming and subsistence farming, highlighting their key differences and implications.

Intensive Farming

Intensive farming, also known as industrial or commercial farming, is a modern agricultural practice characterized by high-input and high-output production systems. It involves the use of advanced technologies, machinery, and synthetic inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides to maximize crop yields and animal production. Intensive farming is typically practiced on large-scale farms, often specializing in a single crop or livestock species.

One of the primary advantages of intensive farming is its ability to produce large quantities of food efficiently. By utilizing modern techniques and technologies, farmers can achieve higher yields per unit of land compared to traditional farming methods. This increased productivity helps meet the demands of a growing population and ensures food security.

Furthermore, intensive farming allows for better control over the production process. Farmers can monitor and adjust various factors such as temperature, humidity, and nutrient levels to optimize growth conditions. This level of control minimizes the risk of crop failure and disease outbreaks, leading to more stable and predictable harvests.

However, intensive farming also has its drawbacks. The heavy reliance on synthetic inputs, such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides, can have detrimental effects on the environment. Excessive use of these substances can lead to soil degradation, water pollution, and the loss of biodiversity. Additionally, the concentration of large numbers of livestock in confined spaces can result in animal welfare concerns and the spread of diseases.

Despite these challenges, intensive farming has played a crucial role in meeting the demands of a growing global population. Its ability to produce high yields efficiently has helped alleviate hunger and improve food accessibility in many parts of the world.

Subsistence Farming

Subsistence farming, also known as traditional or small-scale farming, is a farming practice primarily focused on self-sufficiency. It involves cultivating a variety of crops and raising livestock to meet the basic needs of a family or a small community. Subsistence farmers typically employ traditional techniques and rely on natural inputs, such as organic fertilizers and crop rotation, to maintain soil fertility and control pests.

One of the key advantages of subsistence farming is its ability to promote self-sufficiency and local food production. By growing a diverse range of crops, subsistence farmers can ensure a balanced diet and reduce dependence on external food sources. This method also allows for greater food security, as it is less vulnerable to market fluctuations and price volatility.

Moreover, subsistence farming often has a lower environmental impact compared to intensive farming. The reliance on organic fertilizers and traditional farming techniques helps maintain soil health and biodiversity. Additionally, the smaller scale of operations reduces the need for extensive machinery and synthetic inputs, resulting in lower energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

However, subsistence farming also faces challenges. The limited scale of production may not be sufficient to generate surplus for trade or income generation. This can lead to economic constraints and hinder the development of rural communities. Furthermore, traditional farming techniques may be less efficient in terms of yield compared to intensive farming methods, which can limit the ability to meet the demands of a growing population.

Despite these limitations, subsistence farming remains an important practice in many regions, particularly in developing countries. It preserves traditional knowledge and cultural heritage while providing a means of livelihood for millions of small-scale farmers.


Intensive farming and subsistence farming represent two distinct approaches to agricultural production. While intensive farming focuses on maximizing yields and efficiency through advanced technologies and large-scale operations, subsistence farming prioritizes self-sufficiency, local food production, and environmental sustainability. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, and their suitability depends on various factors such as population density, resource availability, and socio-economic conditions.

As the global population continues to grow, it is essential to strike a balance between the benefits and drawbacks of each farming system. Sustainable intensification, which combines the best practices from both intensive and subsistence farming, may offer a way forward. By incorporating modern technologies while respecting traditional knowledge and environmental stewardship, we can strive for a more resilient and equitable agricultural system that meets the needs of present and future generations.

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