Introduction to Agriculture

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Introduction to Agriculture

It is difficult to fit all types of agriculture into an all-inclusive category but the following table identifies some of the classifications you are likely to come across:

Term: Definition:
Intensive High input or yields for given area of land.
Extensive Low inputs or yields for given area of land.
Commercial Crops are cultivated and animals reared to be sold.
Subsistence Cultivating crops or rearing animals for consumption by the farmer and his family.
Arable The cultivating of crops.
Pastoral The rearing of animals.
Mixed A combination of arable and pastoral.

Subsistence farming

The aim of subsistence farming is to cultivate crops or rear animals for consumption by the farmer and his family. Typically the farmer will have a small piece of land on which he and his family will work.

Any surplus crops could be sold at a local market or stored for future use in times of poor harvest.

It is characterised by the use of simple techniques, family labour and a poor standard of living. It is sustainable.

Agricultural systems

Low input and low output lead to low incomes

It is typical of agriculture in less economically developed countries.

A lack of land, capital and technology prevent improvements in yield.


Agribusiness uses modern technologies to increase crop yields. Farmers produce cash crops for food or as a raw material in manufacturing.

Farms are generally very large with high capital investment, particularly because of the need for expensive farm equipment (many farmers try to find used tractors to reduce costs). This means that farms can benefit from economies of scale.


Very often the investment required for agribusiness comes from trans-national (multi-national) corporations. Profit is of paramount importance often at the expense of social and environmental concerns.

For example: Unilever invest heavily in the developed and developing world. In the developing world it employs in excess of 120 000 people.

These people are employed on the plantations and factories for low wages. The plantations provide the company with the raw materials it needs for worldwide consumption. These include tea (Tanzania and Kenya), rubber (Zaire), coffee (Kenya) and palm oil (Colombia and Thailand).

The factories manufacture products such as Flora, Dove soap and Persil.

Agri-businesses are also a feature of agriculture in the developed world.



Collectives refer to the situation where a farm is run by several people or whole communities who share in the management, work and profits. The farms are usually government owned but the collective is given a permanent lease.

These are a feature of agriculture in communist states such as China and North Korea.

In China, for example, the communist government removed land from private owner-ship and set up numerous 'communes'. These hierarchical systems were given production targets to meet that had been set by the government. They also provide food for the people and small-scale industry.

Later developments encouraged individual farmers to take responsibility for meeting targets. Once they had met their target they could sell surplus on the open market. This encouraged farmers to increase their productivity and went a long way towards easing rural poverty.