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"The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing."
Subsistence agriculture is a self-sufficiency farming system in which the farmers focus on growing enough food to feed themselves and their entire families. The output is mostly for local requirements with little or no surplus trade. The typical subsistence farm has a range of crops and animals needed by the family to feed and clothe themselves during the year. Planting decisions are made principally with an eye toward what the family will need during the coming year, and secondarily toward market prices. Tony Waters writes: "Subsistence peasants are people who grow what they eat, build their own houses, and live without regularly making purchases in the marketplace."
However, despite the primacy of self-sufficiency in subsistence farming, today most subsistence farmers also participate in trade to some degree, though usually it is for goods that are not necessary for survival, and may include sugar, iron roofing sheets, bicycles, used clothing, and so forth. Most subsistence farmers today reside in developing countries, although their amount of trade as measured in cash is less than that of consumers in countries with modern complex markets, many have important trade contacts and trade items that they can produce because of their special skills or special access to resources valued in the marketplace.Subsistence agriculture also emerged independently in Mexico where it was based on maize cultivation, and the Andes where it was based on the domestication of the potato. Subsistence agriculture was the dominant mode of production in the world until recently, when market-based capitalism became widespread. Subsistence horticulture may have developed independently in South East Asia and Papua New Guinea.
Subsistence farming continues today in large parts of rural Africa, and parts of Asia and Latin America. In 2015, about 2 billion people (slightly more than 25% of the world's population) in 500 million households living in rural areas of developing nations survive as "smallholder" farmers, working less than 2 hectares (5 acres) of land. Subsistence agriculture had largely disappeared in Europe by the beginning of World War I, and in North America with the movement of sharecroppers and tenant farmers out of the American South and Midwest during the 1930s and 1940s. As recently as the 1950s, it was still common on family farms in North America and Europe to grow much of a family's own food and make much of its own clothing, although sales of some of the farm's production earned enough currency to buy certain staples, typically including sugar; coffee and tea; petroleum distillates (petrol, kerosene, fuel oil); textile products such as bolts of cloth, needles, and thread; medicines; hardware products such as nails, screws, and wire; and a few discretionary items such as candy or books. Many of the preceding items, as well as occasional services from physicians, veterinarians, blacksmiths, and others, were often bought with barter rather than currency. In Central and Eastern Europe subsistence and semi-subsistence agriculture reappeared within the transition economy since about 1990.