What Are Cash Crops?

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.

Examples of such crops which are managed out of natural stands are bamboo and sweet palm or kaong.

Naturally-growing bamboos are managed as  cash crop.

In contrast, subsistence crops are those grown primarily 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 sustenance.

In Asia, a big proportion of rice is sold for cash to other foreign countries.Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan, India and Cambodia are known exporters of rice.

Four other special terms are oftenly used in describing crops intended for economic gain: export crops, industrial crops, plantation crops and high value crops.Two or more of these terms can describe a single crop.

Mango (Mangifera indica) is one of the cash crops being promoted in the Philippines.

Export crops are intended for the foreign markets.

Industrial crops are plants grown to provide materials for industrial processing and production of biofuel, rubber, starch, industrial oil, aromatic compounds, botanical pesticides, tannins, dye, and other products. Because they are to be processed into industrial products, the harvested raw materials are generally 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.

Cocoa or cacao (Theobroma cacao), one of the most important cash crops in the world.

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.

Read more: Top Agricultural Crop Commodities in the World


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)

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