Cash crops are plants grown or managed, harvested and sold for cash rather than for sustenance. They are grown for grains, fruits, flowers, foliage, stems, roots, latex or any plant organ which may be consumed or utilized directly (e.g. fruits, vegetables, cut flowers and cut foliage) or processed into such products as fiber, rubber, sugar and biofuel.
These are sold for cash either in the domestic market or exported abroad, and may be a food or non-food crop. For the ordinary farmer, the term is applied literally. Any crop can be described as such if it can be harvested and converted to cash for his personal and family needs.
In contrast, subsistence crops are those grown to be consumed by the farmer and his family or to be fed to the farmer’s livestock. Literally, the term is applicable where there are farmers who prefer to grow their own crop for sustenance and not for marketing.
The principal subsistence crops are the staple crops like rice, corn, root and tuber crops and some pulses. However, they are also often marketed, partly or in whole. For example, many traditional farmers grow rice both for family consumption and for marketing. In this case the farmer grows rice both for cash and for subsistence.
In Asia, a big proportion of rice is sold for cash to other foreign countries. Burma, Cambodia, China, India, Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam are known exporters of rice.
Four other special terms are oftenly used in describing cash crops: export crops, industrial crops, plantation crops and high value crops.Two or more of these terms can describe a single crop.
Export crops are intended for the foreign markets.
Industrial crops are plants grown to provide materials for industrial processing and production of non-food products such as biofuel, rubber, starch, industrial oil, aromatic compounds, botanical pesticides, tannins and dye. Because they are to be processed into industrial products, the harvested raw materials must necessarily be sold to the processors.
Plantation crops are plants grown in large tracts of land under intensive culture. The products are exported rather than used for local consumption.
High value crops are plants grown for food, beverage and other products with high buying prices in both local and foreign market. These include many fruits, vegetables and ornamental crops.
The farming methods applied in commercial farming vary from farmer to farmer and from country to country, but always with the intent of earning substantial profit.
Most crops are now grown mainly for cash generation and profit in developed countries. Such cash crops are often also called commercial crops.
In many tropical countries, crops which are commonly grown for cash include cassava, coffee, cacao, tea, sugar cane, rubber, coconut, oil palm, banana and pineapple. In temperate countries, the most dominant crops include grain crops (corn, wheat) and oilseed crops (soybean) as well as some vegetables and herbs.
Note: It is important to be able to define crops with international application (click to read Agricultural Crop Classifications).
Barbier, E.B. undated. Cash crops, food crops and agricultural sustainability. Gatekeeper Series No. SA2. Retrieved September 5, 2010 from http://www.iied.org/pubs/pdfs/6024IIED.pdf.
Wikipedia. 2010. Cash crop. Retrieved September 27, 2010 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cash_crop.
Wikipedia. 2010. Plantation. Retrieved September 5, 2010 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plantation.
(Ben G. Bareja. 2010)