—A risk-averse farmer keeps multiple varieties of crops, livestock and/or sites so that, if one fails, s/he has others to fall back on. The more different crops, livestock and sites a farmer can muster and maintain, the greater the chances s/he won’t lose everything. Where possible, the risk-averse farmer avoids hazards whose probabilities and uncertainties cannot be managed so as to maintain a survival mix of crops, livestock and productive sites. The risk-averse farmer faces a land carrying capacity that sets exogenous limits on the total crops and livestock produced.
—A reliability-seeking farmer keeps multiple varieties of crops, livestock and/or sites because any single resource—e.g., the soil that sustains the crop, site and livestock—is managed better if it provides multiple services. The more crops, livestock and sites a farmer can muster and maintain, the greater the chances s/he can meet peak demands made on his or her production system. The reliability-seeking farmer seeks to manage the probabilities and uncertainties of hazards that cannot be avoided so as to maintain a peak mix of crops, livestock and sites. The reliability-seeking farmer faces a carrying capacity whose endogenous limits are set by farmer skills for and experience with different operating scales and production phases.
Farming behavior, no matter if labelled “subsistence,” that
- is developed around high technical competence and highly complex activities,
- requires high levels of sustained performance, oversight and flexibility,
- is continually in search of improvement,
- maintains great pressures, incentives and expectations for continuous production, and
- is predicated on maintaining peak (not minimum) livestock numbers in a highly reliable fashion without threatening the limits of system survival
is scarcely what one would call “risk-averse.”