Intensive peasant farming - Case Study: India
Practiced in areas of high population density in South East Asia such as India,
Thailand and Malaysia, the typical farm size is 2.5 acres and the main crop is
rice. Little or no capital is available as this is a subsistence type of farming i.e.
food is produced for personal consumption.
Land - Most farmers are tenants who must pay
a proportion of their crops to a landlord. This
is called share-cropping. As rice is grown in
flooded fields called padis, wide, flat
floodplains such as that of the River Ganges is
ideal. However, much steeper land is terraced
to provide additional growing space.
Minimum of 10 degrees Celsius is required for seeds to grow. Over 20 degrees is
required for the rice to ripen. In some areas two or three crops a year are
possible. High rainfall over 2000mm per year is essential for natural irrigation.
Little technology is used as many have no access to it or cannot afford it. Water
buffalo are often used to pull ploughs.
Transport is not necessary either as the farmers produce only for their own
Various methods are used to fertilise the soil. Animal and human manure is
occasionally added, but it is not significant. Rice stubble is ploughed back into
the fields to release nutrients, and the water added to the fields brings fertile
silt, as do any river floods. Nitrogen fixing algae can also enrich the water and
soil. Nutrients are also released from the underlying parent material.
A very high population density is required, as this type of farming is very labour
intensive. All work is done by hand.
Small farms sizes are a result of inheritance practices which result in land being
split between siblings, reducing the area available for each family.
Case Study: India
Settlements are either dispersed or nucleated, with many different
subdivisions. People are often segregated by the caste system, with each part of
the village performing a separate function. Some planned villages have grown up
around irrigation schemes, on roads or canals, which are rectangular in shape and
more organised. In some isolated areas the settlement pattern resembles that
of shifting cultivation. In most of south east Asia it is a typically village
landscape, with mostly nucleated settlements. These tend to be grouped around
a temple, school, market and some shops. This allows the farmers to borrow
equipment that they may have bought as a cooperative.
1. The small farm sizes do not allow any surplus to be produced for sale.
2. The small farm sizes restrict the use of machinery.
3. Scattered plots of land make farming inefficient.
4. Animals are overworked and their manure is more often used for fuel than
5. These areas typically suffer from overpopulation, a lack of investment,
and drought or flooding.
6. The poor infrastructure hinders the marketing of surplus crops and
development, and credit is also difficult to obtain.
The Green Revolution
This is the term used to describe the application of modern, western farming
techniques to developing countries. It evolved from scientific research designed
to increase yield/output. Examples of high yielding variety (HYV) seeds are IR8,
an improved strain of rice, and Mexipak, a dwarf variety of wheat. Occasionally
farmers will grow banana or coconut crops on the land surrounding the padis to
provide an alternate source of income.
The Indian government have introduced five- and seven-year plans to improve
agriculture. Land reform policies have been introduced in an attempt to share
the land more evenly. Over 160million people live on farms smaller than 1
hectare, the minimum size required to support an Indian family. Almost as many
own no land at all. Land reform concentrated on redistributing land to landless
peasant with varying success.
Kerala in the south of the country is the most successful as no one is allowed to
own more than 10 hectares. Unfortunately even if all land was redistributed
each family would still have only 2 hectares of land.
The government have invested in the communication network, schools and
electricity, all in an effort to raise living standards. Farming programmes are
also shown on TV, for those lucky enough to have one, and farmers are
encouraged to form cooperatives which pool money and resources for the
benefit of all.
The Green Revolution has been most successful in areas where land reform has
Shifting cultivation - Case study: the Amazon Basin
Practiced in the Tropical Rainforests of the world, such as Amazonia, central
Africa and south east Asia, where population density is low. It is a small-scale,
primitive but sustainable (environmentally friendly) form of agriculture in which
a small plot of land is used but a large area is required. A typical family unit of
20 people uses around 120 hectares.
The main crops are maize, manoic, yucca, yams and cassava. Yields are low and
protein is added to the diet through hunting, gathering and fishing.
The group clear the trees using simple tools then burn the stumps that remain
to add ash to the soil. This fertilises the soil. This technique is called slash-and-
burn. After two or three years the soil loses its fertility and crop yields fall,
forcing the people to move to another plot. The vegetation normally recovers in
about 30 years. This lifestyle supports around 300million people worldwide. The
Yanomami or Boro tribe are typical shifting cultivators.
Little or no capital is available as this is a subsistence type of farming - food is
produced for personal consumption. Government grants are available but they
have little impact as few of the farmers even know who is in power.
This varies depending on the size of the tribe. The overall area used is
approximately 1,000 hectares (ha) per person.
High temperatures and high rainfall allow for a 12 month growing season, so
there are always ripe crops available.
The tradition of sharing the land is important in preserving this way of life.
Little technology is used as many have no access to it or cannot afford it.
Primitive digging sticks and axes are often used and the main form of transport
Ash is the only natural fertiliser used as the people do not keep animals that
could be a source of manure.
The crops are tended mainly by women and children as the men supplement the
basic diet through hunting, gathering and fishing.
Most nutrients in the Rainforests are held in the vegetation so the soils
(latosols) are very poor, suffering heavy leaching from the high rainfall, and
rapid loss of fertility.
Case Study: the Amazon Basin
Traditionally settlements are dispersed, although some clustering can occur
where the people will hunt or farm together. Typical settlements consist of leaf-
thatched wooden longhouses called Malocas, which are built in a ring pattern
allowing protection from animals or to guard against thieves trying to steal their
crops. They tend to live in families or tribal groups with 3 to 6 families living
under one roof.
In some parts of the Amazon the indigenous populations have been forced into
reservations or remote areas due to competing land uses such as hydro-electic
power (HEP) schemes, mining, cattle ranching, or road building (such as the
TransAmazon Highway). This threatens the traditional way of life and the
1. Land made fallow by being cleared.
2. Slash and burn leads to soil instability and loss of fertility which results
in smaller yields. These yields rapidly decline from year one.
3. The farmers do not own their land so it can be taken from them at any
time, often by land developers.
4. European immigrants have brought increasing population pressure and
pressure on the land.
5. They have also brought diseases that the indigenous people have no
immunity to and thousands have died, often from the common cold.
6. Contact with outside cultures has also led to more crime and alcoholism,
particularly when they are forced onto reservations.
7. Land is being cleared for cattle ranches, roads, mines and HEP schemes
leaving less land for the Indians to farm on. This leaves the land fallow
for a shorter time as they must return to same area much quicker. The
reduced food supply threatens the whole way of life.
8. Shifting cultivators often find the forced change to sedentary
(stationary) agriculture too difficult, as it is an instant, and not
Agroforestry can be practiced, which is the planting of trees and crops which
maintains the natural nutrient cycle. The fallow land can be artificially enriched
e.g. by planting leguminous acacia trees. It has been found that such trees
restore the nutrients to the soil more quickly than allowing the area to
regenerate naturally, so it might take two years instead of seven for example
Crop rotation can be practiced in permanent settlements, known as ‘bush
Cash crops can be grown with government encouragement e.g. coffee and cocoa
Cuttings from the trees can be mulched and added to soil to protect it and add
Food can be gathered from existing trees e.g. fruit and nuts
Extensive Commercial Farming - Case study: Great Plains of North
Extensive commercial farming is found throughout the world in the Pampas of
Argentina, the Russian Steppes, Australia and south east England. The most
characteristic of this farming type though are the Great Plains of North
America (Canada and USA).
Commercial farming depends on good transport and marketing organisation to
distribute the produce. This type of agriculture involves the use of a small
labour force, a high degree of mechanisation and a large farm - so it is capital
intensive. Scientific and technological advances are used e.g chemicals. Water is
regulated so that maximum yields are obtained without damaging the soil or
lowering its fertility. Most of the produce, if not all, is sold for cash.
Extensive areas of flat or gently undulating land is required. The soil must be
deep and fertile, but can and is enhanced using fertilisers. The typical soil type
is a Chernozem which is black and humus rich, and good at conserving moisture
and binding soil in the dry climate. The crops are often grown in monoculture,
meaning only one crop, and there is no need for fences to mark field boundaries.
Grain silos or elevators are a common feature of the landscape, where the grain
is stored before transport.
Moderate temperatures and rainfall is required as the crops cannot withstand
extremes of either. Long, sunny summer days help to ripen crops whilst winter
snow helps to insulate the ground, allowing early planting. Intense winter frosts
kill off pests and plant diseases, and break the soil into fine crumbs, making it
easier to work. In the USA warm winds from the Rocky Mountains (Chinook)
rapidly melts the snow. There tends to be a six month growing season that varies
depending on latitude. Cattle-ranching is not so dependent on climatic conditions,
which is why this occurs in the drier parts of these regions.
Technology in the form of machinery is used
extensively. There is high investment, it is high
tech and modern e.g. combine harvesters.
Irrigation systems are also employed to cope
with the frequent drought conditions in some
regions. Like the Green Revolution, seeds have
been designed to be resistant to disease and
drought, and to be faster growing (some fewer
than 90 days). Sophisticated transport networks are also required to ship
produce to markets, and can be built cheaply and easily on the vast expanses of
High levels of artificial fertiliser and pesticides are used e.g. nitrogen based
fertilisers, and are often sprayed by aircraft.
Labour is a low priority input as machinery does the majority of work. Often
labour is employed on seasonal contracts during harvesting, and this leads to
outmigration and rural depopulation.
Many government grants and subsidies are provided to support farmers in
difficult times and to guarantee a price for produce. This disadvantages foreign
Case Study: the Great Plains of North America
Settlement has evolved into a recognisable pattern, regularly spaced in a
hierarchical system. There are very few large settlements, which provide
services for the more numerous smaller settlements. This spacing is created by
a combination of field patterns, road and railway networks, and the service
function of the settlements. The geometric pattern to the landscape has a
historical origin in the division of land during the great influx of European
immigrants (mainly Germans, Russians and Scandinavians) that took place in the
late 19th century. Surveyors divided the land into districts and then gave each
settler 64 hectares of land to cultivate. Farming was intensive rather than
extensive at this point, and only changed in the early 20th century following
persistent drought. Farmers export grain produce through the railway network
so towns are distributed along this in a linear fashion. The flat landscape allows
equal access in all directions along the road system. Regular spacing of the
service centres ensures that each maximises their share of available consumers
in the area.
1. Output is modest despite the size of the farms.
2. Increased mechanisation has led to higher costs for the farmer and a
reduction in the workforce required. This causes unemployment and rural
depopulation as younger people move to cities in search of work.
3. Farming is now industrialised agribusiness, meaning many smaller farms
cannot compete so either fold completely or are taken over by larger
farms. Again this leads to outmigration.
4. Many environmental issues are raised due to high usage of chemicals in
fertilisers and pesticides, run-off from which can get into water supplies.
5. Reclamation of land (e.g. draining wetlands), removal of vegetation cover
and hedgerows have changed the local ecology, whilst burning of straw
stumps (stubble burning) causes air pollution.
6. The extensive use of irrigation also leads high rates of
evapotranspiration. This brings salts to the surface causing salinisation of
the topsoil. It is also very expensive and often the rate at which water is
removed from the soil exceeds precipitation.
7. Climatic problems include occasional drought, severe hailstones or
tornadoes, all of which can cause extensive damage.
8. The most famous problem to afflict this region was the Dust Bowl of the
1930s when overcultivation and poor farm practices were followed by
drought and severe soil erosion. Some of the dust was carried as far as
Washington DC, 2000km to the east. This in turn led to food shortages
for the whole of North America and significant rural depopulation. Those
who stayed suffered extreme poverty for many years.
The Dust Bowl was such a major event that the US Government set up The Soil
Conservation Service in 1936 to promote better farming techniques. For
example: Stubble mulching involves leaving the remains of the crops to protect
the soil during the fallow period, preventing wind erosion and evaporation.
Strip cultivation means a fallow field is protected from the prevailing wind by a
Contour ploughing (ploughing with the contour rather than across it) has reduced
erosion on hillsides.
Crop rotation rather than monoculture was introduced to allow soil to recover
during fallow periods. This does however leave it susceptible to erosion.
Irrigation was introduced only on a small scale and on valley floors. This is
obtained from a vast underground aquifer, called the Ogallala Aquifer.
Herbicides to kill weeds helped as they reduce the number of times soil needs
tilled. This process kills weeds but increases erosion.
Farmers are paid to take land out of production to reduce surplus and keep down
the price of crops.
Switching from cropping to grazing was necessary as the area is too dry for