World Agriculture: Typology of Agricultural Regions – UPSC

In this article, You will read World Agriculture: Typology of Agricultural Regions – for UPSC (Economic Geography – Geography Optional).

World Agriculture

  • Agriculture is the most fundamental from of human activity. An area or region with similar functional attributes is termed as agricultural system as a widen term which emphasize on the functional attributes. An agricultural system may be a single farm or a group of interrelated farms having similarities of agricultural attributes.
  • Farming in the world is not similar and equal. It is difficult to identify and describe types of agriculture on the earth’s surface. Agriculture is the sum total of physical agriculture, social techniques, economic and cultural factors. The impact of these factors are different according to space and region. Due to difference of factors, the agricultural attributes become different.
  • “Agriculture is defined as the purposeful tending of crops & livestock.” – M. Carty & Limberg
  • “Region is that place on the earth surface which has some homogenous criteria.” – D. E. Jong
  • “Agricultural Region is an uninterrupted area having some kind of homogeneity with specifically defined outer limit.” – Whittlesey (1936)

Agricultural Region

  • Agricultural region may be defined as an extensive area or imaginary system of a geographical unit covering the globe, having uniformity in agricultural works, types of crops, production method, factors of production, land utilization, and livelihood of the farmers. The livelihood of farmers includes their residences and standard of living too. The farms are distinctive from surrounding areas.
  • Agricultural characteristics are affected by the physical and human factors
    • Climate – Different crops need different temperatures for plants at different times of the year. In high and mid-latitudes the length of the growing season are very much important which depends on temperature. Same is with rainfall. The amount of rainfall at different period, time of rainfall, amount of humidity, snowfall, etc become important for plant growth.
    • Soil – The mineral composition of the soil is important. There are certain crops which destroy the fertility of soil.
    • Landform– Type of landform also influences the crop. The amount and direction of slope, accessibility, and inaccessibility will be important. The flatness of land affects agricultural characteristics.
    • Density of the population – Where the density of the population is high there the attitude of local consumption will be important. The Labour force is more important here than capital. Hence, machines are less used because most of the work is done by hand as in Monsoon Asia hence subsistence farming in China, India, and Japan. In fact, if other factors are uniform in those areas capital is more important, machines are more used. Commercial farming is practiced. Special crops are grown and exported as in U.S.A, Canada, Australia, and Newzealand.
    • Scientific Progress- Where modern implements, chemical fertilizers, and capital are used there agriculture is done on a large scale. For commercial farming transport, linkages are important especially railways, waterways refrigeration etc.
    • Traditional Factors –Wherever traditions are important like religious belief, customs, eating habits, etc. there the agriculture is also affected.. Indian farmers follow the same system or method of agriculture like their forefathers. In India, animals are reared for cultivating the land rather than meat hence pastoral activities are negligible rather than the western nation.
    • Socio-economic and political factors – In industrially advanced nations agriculture provides the raw materials for industries as well as fulfilling the demands of the people. In the U.S.A on the Atlantic coast, tobacco and vegetables are usually grown. Australia, Newzealand depend on pastoralismEurope is dependent on butter, cheese, and meat from Great Britain. In SE Asia rubber plantations are the result of economic and political relations too. The development of the cotton belt is due to the presence ofNegro laborers in the very beginning.

Typology of Agricultural Regions

  • Diversity in the physical and non-physical factors over the earth surface to divide agriculture into typology is tedious work.
  • According to Majid Hussain, ‘Some of the geographers have used agricultural typology and agricultural system as a wider term which emphasizes on the functional attributes’. An agricultural system may be a single farm or a group of inter-related farms having similarities of agricultural attributes. The variations in attributes of agricultural systems are the result of terrain, climate, soil, sociocultural and ecopolitical factors.
  • Many geographers have tried to delineate the agricultural systems of the world. But Whittlesey’s classification of agricultural systems is a milestone and acceptable for all.
  • Whittlesey was the first person who made an attempt to classify agricultural types scientifically. In the year 1936, Whittlesey had classified the agricultural systems of the world into thirteen parts on the base of region. This division was followed by functioning forms of agriculture prevailing in the whole world.

Whittlesey World Agricultural Systems/Region:

An area with similar functional attributes is as an agricultural region. The demarcation of the agricultural regions is also seriously constrained by the non-availability of reliable data on the various aspects of agricultural patterns.

The first scientific attempt for the Whittlesey in his paper “Major agricultural regions of the Earth” published in 1936 in the Annals of Association of American Geographers. Whittlesey in his monumental paper delineated the agricultural system of the earth on the following five characteristics of agriculture

  1. Crop and animal association
    • Agriculture and pastoralism go together in the world. Both are dependent on the availability of extensive land and the fertility of the soil. The human factor is supplemented by animals which increase the efficiency of labour. The animals provide milk, meat, bones, manures and they have a positive affect on agriculture.
  2. Capital and labour
    • Capital and labour too have an impact on agriculture. Agriculture dependent on labour tends to make it
      subsistence type. Mechanisation improves productivity in agriculture. Exchange of capital affects the amount of production types and varieties of crops.
  3. Productivity of agriculture
    • With variations in agricultural conditions the method of production also gets influenced. We may find uniformity in crop and animal combination of two regions but the production method may be different. The same crop may be
      produced by primitive methods or by machines as tractors. In some regions animals are used for agricultural works and in others, they are kept for utilization of crops so that maximum use of animals may be possible. Some regions produce crops with the help of irrigation and some without irrigation. Thus agricultural productivity also reflects the uniformity and regional distribution of agricultural conditions prevailing in the country.
  4. Consumption pattern of agriculture
    • The consumption pattern of agricultural production is yet another criteria. In some regions crops are grown on a commercial basis for trade thus importance is given on the growth of just one crop, but where farmers cultivate the land for their livelihood there they have to grow many crops. Thus the agricultural characteristics vary a lot.
  5. Methods and techniques used in agriculture
    • Methods and techniques used in agriculture as well as the standard of living of farmers are again important criteria of classification of agricultural regions. For example farmers in Europe and U.S.A, the farmers enjoy all the benefits. The techniques of farming are good as well as the standard of living. In SE Asian countries most of the villages lack transport facilities, electricity, health, and nutrition facilities. The standard of living is therefore low On this basis classification of the agricultural region can be done.

With the help of above indicators, Whittlesey has identified the following types of agricultural system regions

  1. Nomadic herding
  2. Livestock ranching
  3. Shifting cultivation
  4. Rudimentary tillage
  5. Intensive subsistence tillage (with paddy dominance)
  6. Intensive subsistence tillage (without paddy dominance)
  7. Commercial plantation
  8. Mediterranean agriculture
  9. Commercial grain farming
  10. Commercial livestock and crop farming
  11. Subsistence crop & livestock farming.
  12. Commercial dairy farming
  13. Specialized horticulture

1. Nomadic Herding

  • This is an extensive farm of animal grazing on natural pasturage involving constant seasonal migration of the nomads their flocks nomadic herding is confined to rather sparsely populated parts of the world where the natural vegetation is mainly grass.
  • Location:
    • Nomadic herding at present is mainly concentrated in Saharan Africa (Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Sudan, Libya, Algeria ). The southwestern central parts of Asia the not pails of Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland ), northern Canada.
  • Characteristics:
    • Nomadic herding is an ecological or near the ecological system of agriculture. It is carried mainly to produce food for the family to fulfill the needs of clothing, shelter, and recreation.
    • It is a declining type of agriculture that continues to become less important.
    • The main characteristic of nomadic herding is the continued movement of people with their livestock in search of forage and water for the animals.
    • The Bedouin of Saudi Arabia, the taurag of the Sahara also practice nomadic herding in the desert and semi-desert areas of North Africa, Southwest Asia.
    • The chief characteristics of nomadic herding are described below–
      • Seasonal pattern of movement.
      • Many kinds of animals grazed.
      • Transhumance.

2. Livestock Ranching

  • In the extensive temperate grasslands once named by nomadic herdsmen or by hunters are found permanent ranchers where large numbers of cattle sheep, goats, cattle, horses, etc. are kept.
  • Location:
    • Livestock ranching at present is mainly located in the Americans, Australia, the Republic of South Africa, Brazil Argentina, Peru, and New Zealand the nearest equivalent to nomadic herding is ranching.
  • Characteristics:
    • The livestock ranchers specialize in animal husbanding to the exclusion of crop raising even though both live in arid on the semi-arid regions.
    • Tim livestock ranchers have a fixed place of residence and operate as individuals rather than with in tribal organizations.
    • Livestock ranching differs farm nomadic herding in time important aspects.
      • The vegetation cover is continuous.
      • There is little or no migration.
      • Ranches one scientifically managed.
      • The animal’s arc rose for sale.
      • Commercial grazing supports the development of the town’s communications.

3. Shifting Cultivation

  • Shifting cultivation essentially is a land rotation system. Farmers using machetes or other bladed instruments chop away the undergrowth from small pat etches of land. Then they kill the trees by cutting of a strip of bank completely around the truck. Afton the dead clean it farm the land. These cleaning techniques have gluten shifting cultivation the name or slash and burn agriculture.
  • Location:
    • Shifting cultivations the primitive form of soil utilization usually tropical rainforests also tropical lowlands hills in the center of America, Africa, and Southeast Asia, Indonesia.
  • Characteristics:
    • Shifting cultivation is called by a different name in different parts of the world. It is generally known as a slash burn and bush fallow agriculture. It is variously termed as ladang in Indonesia, Milpa in Central America and Mexico, Chengin in Phillipines, Konuko in Venezuela, Roka in Brazil, Masole in the Congo central Africa (Zaire basin), and Jhuming in Northeast India.
    • The farmer grows food only for his family in this agriculture system. Some small surplus, if any are exchanged on bartered (exchange of a commodity for a commodity) or sold for cash in the neighboring markets.
    • Shifting cultivation has been described as an economy of which the main Characteristics are rotation of fields rather than rotation of crops.
    • In the hill tracts of northeast India, Jhuming is the dominant economic activity. Our 86 percent of the people living on hill are dependent on shifting cultivation.
    • The shifting cultivations grow food grains such as rice, maize, millet, cassava, vegetables, and soybean.

4. Rudimentary Tillage/Sedentry Agriculture

  • Agriculture, as practiced in one place by the settled farmer in which fields are not rotated, is called sedentary agriculture
  • This is a subsistence type of agriculture and it differs from the aforementioned types because the same plot of land is cultivated continuously year after year. Fallowing of land is commonly adopted to maintain soil fertility and is a technique often adopted in tropical regions. Besides grain crops, some tree crops such as the Pará rubber tree are grown using this system.
  • Location
    • Mostly confined to the tropical lands of Central & South America, Africa, South-East Asia etc.
  • Characteristics:
    • Crop rotation occurs most rather than field rotation.
    • The domesticated animals are used for draught purposes as well as for milk and meat purposes.
    • Potatoes, Sweet potatoes, Paddy, Millets, Maize, Sorghum, Root crops, Banana, etc. are grown.

5. Intensive Subsistence Tillage (with paddy dominance)

  • Intensive subsistence farming is practiced in tropical regions that have high populations and receive a large amount of precipitation. Rice is the dominant crop when it comes to this type of farming, as it can employ and feed a large number of people per unit of area.
  • The southeast Asian region is where most of this type of farming is done. This type of farming requires the use of both manual and animal power, and farmers try to enhance the productivity per unit of area with the use of manures.
  • Location:
    • Intensive subsistence tillage dominated by paddy is practiced mostly in tropical Asia. It is carried on mainly in China. Japan, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Philippines, etc.
  • Characteristics:
    • Farming is also intensive that double or treble cropping is practiced. That is several crops are grown on the same land during the course of a year.
    • Where only one crop of’ paddy can be raised. The fields one normally used in the dry season to raise other
      food or cash crop such as sugar, tobacco on oilseeds on fiber crop jute.
    • Asian farmer one now producing even greater yields per acre because of the recent introduction to improved varieties of hybrid rice.
    • In wet paddy agriculture, traditionally much manual and hand labour is required.
    • Cattle and Buffalos are kept as draught animals in many parts of the monsoon world.
    • In this type of agriculture, the size of holding is generally very small. Farm sizes are also very small and they through many generations have been subdivided so that they become extremely very small.

6. Intensive Subsistence Tillage (without paddy dominance)

  • This is a variant of the aforementioned type of farming designed for areas where the amount of rainfall is not very high. These regions grow grain crops other than rice, such as wheat and millets.
  • Besides the comparatively less wet areas of Asia, northern Africa and the parts of the Middle East utilize this type of farming. It is also commonly practiced in parts of southern Africa and Central America.
  • Location:
    • It includes interior India and North-East China.
  • Characteristics:
    • Land is intensively used & worked primarily by human power.
    • Farming in these regions suffers from frequent crop failures & famines.
    • Wheat, Soya bean, Barley, Kaoliang crops are grown.

7. Commercial Plantation

  • Although practiced over a rather small area, this type of farming is quite important in terms of its commercial value. The major products of this type of farming are tropical crops such as tea, coffee, rubber and palm oil. This type of farming has developed in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America where the colonial influence of Europeans has remained. Most of the plantations were developed to provide tropical crops to the European markets. This is a highly capital-intensive type of farming and most of the crops are tree crops.
  • Location:
    • The term plantation agriculture was originally applied specifically to the British settlements in America then to any Inga estate in North America, west India, south-east Asia which was cultivated mainly by Negro or other colored labor.
  • Characteristics:
    • A plantation is a landholding devolved to the specialized production of one tropical or subtropical crop raised for market.
    • Climatic hazards’ strong winds, topography, drainage soil vegetation condition often handicap or many even prevent the development establishment of plantation stct. Accessibility connectivity availability of labor difficulties of clearing vegetation prevalence of discover sin sect pest , weeds, rapid deterioration of the tropical soil , soil erosion are some of the main problem of plantation agriculture.
    • The plantation forms arc generally large and arc found mainly in the thinly populated areas. The size of farm varies from 40 hectares in Malaya India, too 60000 hectares in Liberia. In these estates on large disciplined but unskilled labor force is necessary.
    • Some of the main plantation crops are rubber, oil palm, cotton, copra, beverages like coffee, tea, coco, fruits like pineapples, bananas, as well as sugar-cane jute.
    • The continent wise analysis reveals that Asia is the leading producer of Jute (96%), rubber (90%) tea (87%) coconut (37%) tobacco (46%) of the total world production Asia share in the production of sugarcane is 39% that of banana , oil palm is 25% each (Hussain 1996).
    • The characteristics features of commercial plantation may be summarized as follows–
      • Estate farming.
      • Foreign ownership local labor.
      • Fanning in estates is scientifically managed.

8. Mediterranean Agriculture

  • The typically rugged terrain of the Mediterranean region has resulted in typical livestock and crop combinations. Wheat, vineyards, and citrus fruits are the major crops, and small animals are the major livestock reared in the region. Horticulture is a major activity of this region, and most of the crops are grown during the winter with the help of winter rains.
  • Location:
    • Agricultural typology is confined to the coastal areas the Mediterranean sea in Europe, Asia, Minor, North African coastal strip.
    • Outside the Mediterranean coast, this system is found in California (USA).
    • Central Chile the south-cast of cape province (South Africa) South-West of Western Australia.
  • Characteristics:
    • This type of farming is also found in irrigated semi-descent descent areas in similar latitudes.
    • The agricultural landscape of the Mediterranean region has been largely affected by long day summers occurrence of rains during the winter season devices for artificial irrigation during drought periods of summers.
    • Traditional Mediterranean agricultural is bored on what barely cultivation in the rainy wastes season raising drought-resistant vine tree crops like the grape olive, fig, small livestock herding particularly of sheep goats pigs.
    • In recent times farmers have begun using irrigation ill 1 major way which has led to the expansion of crops such as citrus fruits.
    • The Mediterranean land in fact the Orchard lands of the world the heart of the world’s wine industry.

9. Commercial Grain Farming

  • Commercial grain farming is another market-oriented type of agriculture in which farmers specialize in growing wheat on less frequently rice or corn.
  • Location:
    • Great wheat belts stretch through Australia the plains of interior North America, the steppes of Russia, the pampas of Argentina, together with the United States, Canada farmer, Soviet union.
  • Characteristics:
    • The commercial vain fanning is basically extensive. The main characteristics of these systems are–
      • Big farm size
      • Comprehensive use of heavy machines
      • Low use of irrigation fertilizer
      • Low production rate
      • Long-distance of the farm from the market.
    • Widespread use of machinery enables commercial grain farmers to operate on this large scale indeed planting harvesting grain is more completely mechanized than any other form of agriculture.
    • Wheat is the main crop; Mize, Barleys, oat ore other important crops. The wheat production regions are divided into two belts.
      • Winter wheat belt.
      • Spring wheat belt.

10. Commercial Livestock & Crop Farming

  • This type of agriculture is commonly known as mixed farming, and originated in the humid areas of the middle latitudes, except Asia. Its development is closely related to the market facilities, and it is a typically European type of farming. Great Britain and New Zealand are examples of areas where this type of farming is common practice.
  • Location:
    • It is found throughout Europe from Ireland in the West through central Europe to Russia. It is also found in north
    • America east at 98o meridian in the pampas of Argentina, Southeast Australia, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand.
  • Characteristics:
    • The main characteristic of the mixed farming arc that farms produce both crops livestock the two enterprises interwove an integrated.
    • Mixed farms one characterized by high expenditure on machinery farm building extensive use of machinery arm buildings fertilizers also by the skill experts of farmers who need to know about all aspects of farming to grow market their range of product successfully.

11. Subsistence Crop & Livestock Farming

  • In this type of agriculture practically nothing is sold off the farm. This type of farming has been common in areas of middle latitudes with lower fertility of soils, or in areas with rough terrain. It has declined significantly after the collectivization of farming in Russia, which was one of the major regions where this was practiced.
  • Location:
    • Northern Europe, Middle East, Mountain region of Mexico.
  • Characteristics:
    • Produced crops & raised livestock mainly used for own subsistence.
    • The traditional way of farming.
    • Seeds are poor quality & animals are poorly husbanded.
    • Capital input is normally unknown.
    • Rice, Wheat, Maize, Rye, Barley, etc are the main crops. Sheep and Goats are the most important animal.
    • Intensive cultivation causes depletion of soil fertility and farmers attempt to maintain it by applying farmyard manure, compost, green manure, and chemical fertilizers.
    • In other parts where rainfall is low, wheat, barley, maize, jowar, bajra, etc. may be grown, for example, in parts of Rajasthan, some parts of Peninsula India.
    • Sheep and Goats are the most important animals domesticated in these regions.

12. Commercial Dairy Farming

  • Location:
    • The rearing of the cattle for milk, milk products (butter, cheep, condensed, dried milk, etc) is known in dairy farming.
    • It is mainly practiced in Europe, Northern USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, France, and Switzerland.
    • It contributes 40% of agricultural income.
  • Characteristics:
    • Dairying is capital-intensive farming. A modern dairy farm needs long here’s from the farming huge amounts for the development of infrastructural facilities capital is required for the punch ore of mechanical equipment like milking machines milk freezers, feeding towers, born silos for the storage of fodder for winters.
    • The size of cattle in dairies varies from country to country from farm to farm depending on the size of the holding. In the United Kingdom for example the ratio of cattle pasture is one cow after one acre. The average size of dairy cattle in northwest Europe is only five cows per farm.
    • Nearly 80% of the total milk production of the world is produced in Europe, Russia, Anglo America, Australia, New Zealand (Hussain 1996).
    • Modern methods of daily farming cattle breeding herd management allow high yields of dairy products. A cow in temperate latitudes under normal healthy conditions yield or much as 3000kg of milk per year.

13. Specialized Horticulture

  • The specialized cultivation of vegetables, fruits, flowers is called horticulture.
  • Location:
    • Horticulture is well developed in the densely populated industrial districts of northwest Europe, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, France, Italy.
  • Characteristics:
    • In horticultural farms are small such farms arc located where communication links the consumption centers arc appreciably good. The land fruits’ vegetable gardening is very intensively cultivated. Soil fertility is maintained by the heavy application of manures and fertilizers & work is done by hand labor.
    • The market gardens are scientifically managed to achieve optimum yields handsome returns.
    • The important vegetation region are California Rio Ground boring of Texas Florida Netherlands, Rhone valley, etc. fruits regions are west of Paris, Rhine valley lake region of Switzerland, Mendoza, Sanjuam of Argentina etc. (grapes production ) southwestern Germany (apple).
    • Besides Saudi Arab, Iraq for date, India and South-East Asia for spices, pineapple, mango, banana, berries, apricot, plum, grapes, oranges, apple, guava, etc. are produced in varying agro-climatic condition of India and exported to distant markets to earn a considerable amount every year.


  • By agriculture, many of the necessities of life especially food, drink, fibers is produced. In this modern period, most of the people are dependent on agriculture for this food livelihood. But at this stage, many portions of the world suffers from food deficiency. So, a modern cultivation method should apply for achieving sufficiency in food.

Merits of Whittlesey’s classification

  • The following merits are as follows:
    • It provides a classification and description of major agricultural regions of the world used in atlases etc.
    • The five basic functioning forms are subjected to statistical determination.
    • A comparative study of the agricultural regions is possible by plotting the system of the first degree of magnitude on a single map.
    • The study focuses on the observable items in the agricultural landscape.
    • The classification serves as a framework in which further refinements can be suggested.


  • There are some limitations to the classification as well.
    • The various bases of classification, viz., the institutional, cultural, and political factors are not static but are continually changing because of changes in the local, national and global situations. So, Whittlesey’s scheme has recently been modified by Thoman Fryer.
    • Whittlesey has not taken into consideration some relevant indicators like land tenancy, land ownership, size of holdings, fragmentation of holdings, government policies.
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