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Cash crop – definition and meaning

A cash crop is a crop that a farmer grows for profit. In other words, the aim is to sell the harvest for money, rather than use it for subsistence. A subsistence crop, on the other hand, is there to feed the farmer and family members.

We use the term ‘cash crops’ for plants, but not for livestock.

Apart from large farms and subsistence plots, there are also market gardens. These are small plots of land. Market gardeners sell their crops for profit.

Farming practices in much of the world today are different to what they used to be. In most advanced economies, cash crops historically represented a small part of a farm’s total production.

However, this changed at the end of the last century. Today it is the other way round; farmers sell most of their crops for revenue.

Low-income nations export most of their cash crops to the advanced economies. However, subsistence farming still exists in low-income countries. Subsistence farming refers to farmers growing crops to feed themselves.

The international commodity markets set the prices for most cash crops. There is some price variation due to local demand, supply, and transportation costs.

Cash crops - crops that farmers sell
Cash crops are crops that farmers sell. This type of farming contrasts with subsistence farming. In subsistence farming, the farmers do not sell the crops – they eat them.

Farmers worldwide are at the mercy of global commodity prices. The farmers thrive when demand is high, and supply is comparatively low. However, they suffer when there is a glut and prices plummet.

Cash crop dilemma

Farmers in developing nations say it is virtually impossible to compete against the advanced economies because governments subsidize their cash crops.

Many economists say these subsidies have contributed to the deterioration of agriculture in countries like Mexico.

Millions of Mexican farmers abandoned the land and moved to urban areas. In fact, many of them crossed the border into the United States looking for work.

Jayati Ghosh wrote in the Guardian that agricultural subsidies affect the livelihoods and food security of millions of people. Agricultural subsidies harm the lives of more than 50% of the world’s population

Cash crops – regions

Tropics

In the tropics, farmers grow jute, cotton, oranges, sugar cane, cocoa, coffee, and palms (mainly oil palm). They also grow mangoes, bananas, papaya, and other tropical fruit.

Subtropics

This region may include some of the plants grown in tropical areas, plus grain crops. For example, millet, rice, and oil-yielding crops (soybeans). Farmers also grow some types of herbs and vegetables.

Temperate

In temperate regions, oats, wheat, corn, rye, and barley are common. Farmers also grow vegetables and several types of fruit. Examples of fruits include apples, pears, cherries, strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries.

Cash Crop
A cash crop, as opposed to a subsistence crop, earns money for the farmer.

Arctic

The Arctic is inhospitable for most agricultural products. One potential cash crop might be Rhodiola rosea (golden root or rose root). It grows in the cold regions of the world, including the Arctic.

According to some studies, golden root may have an antidepressant effect. Demand currently exceeds supply for this perennial flowering plant.

Video – Cash crops in Fiji

This inspiring video shows how a group of women teamed up with an exporter to sell their crops.