Primary Sector of the Economy: Definition and 15 Examples

digger and truck at a mining site

The primary sector of the economy is the industrial sector that’s involved in the extraction and production of raw materials. Primary sector examples include farming, mining, fishing, logging, and quarrying.

Any industry associated with the extraction or production of raw materials is considered a part of the primary sector (Lundahl, 2015).

The primary sector tends to make up a larger portion of the economy in developing countries than in developed ones (World Bank Open Data, 2022). The proportion of workers in the primary sector is continually decreasing in developing and developed countries.

What are the Five Sectors of the Economy?

five sectors of the economy

Economic activity can be divided into five main economic sectors, outlined below.

The five economic sectors are known as the primary sector (raw materials), the secondary sector (manufacturing), the tertiary sector (services), the quaternary sector (information services), and the quinary sector (human services) (Clark, 1940; Kuznets, 1966).

The quaternary and the quinary sectors are considered extensions of the tertiary sector. Each plays a vital role in the economy.

  • The primary sector involves the extraction and production of raw materials. Examples include farming, mining, fishing, logging, and so on.
  • The secondary sector involves the transformation of raw or intermediate materials into goods. Examples include the production of clothing with textiles, bottles with glass, cars with steel, and so on.
  • The tertiary sector involves the supplying of services to consumers and businesses. Examples include accounting, retail, baking, babysitting, and so on.
  • The quaternary sector is an extension of the tertiary sector and includes information or knowledge-based services. Examples include research, media, consultation, education, blogging, etc.
  • The quinary sector is an extension of the tertiary sector with varying definitions. It is often thought of as the sector responsible for services provided by the highest levels of organization in society, including services such as government, military, education, and healthcare.

15 Primary Sector Examples

  • Agriculture – The practice of cultivating plants and livestock. The major agricultural products are foods, fuels, and raw materials. This was the main economic sector in many pre-industrial types of societies.
  • Coal mining – The process of extracting coal from the ground. Coal mining involves the use of trucks, conveyors, draglines, hydraulic jacks, and shearers.
  • Metal mining – The extraction of metals from the earth. Modern metal mining processes involve prospecting for ore bodies, profit analysis, the extraction of desired metals, and the restoration of the land.
  • Limestone mining – The extraction of limestone for further use.  Limestone is a building block of the construction industry. It is also used for the production of paper, plastics, glass, paint, steel, and cement.
  • Fishing – The activity of catching fish. Fishing can be recreational, subsistence, or commercial.
  • Logging – The process of cutting, processing, and moving trees to another location for transport. Logging provides the raw materials used for many products. Examples include construction, housing, energy, paper, etc.
  • Forestry – The craft of creating, managing, planting, using, conserving and repairing forests, woodlands, and similar resources for environmental or human benefits. Forestry is used for producing timber, fuel wood, provision of wildlife habitats, etc.
  • Hunting – The practice of seeking, pursuing, or killing wildlife or feral animals. Hunting can be used for production purposes. Examples include food (meat) harvesting and the collection of materials like fur and bone for the production of useful animal products.
  • Sheep shearing – The process by which the woolen fleece of sheep is cut off. Sheep shearing is often used for the production of wool.
  • Animal husbandry – The branch of agriculture concerned with animals that are raised for meat, milk, fiber, or other products. Animal husbandry includes caring for, selectively breeding, and raising livestock.
  • Quarrying – The removal of stones from their natural bed with different operations such as digging, heating, blasting, and wedging.
  • Water extraction – The process of taking water from any source for use. Flood control, irrigation or consumption are all reasons for extracting water.
  • Natural gas extraction – The process by which natural gas is extracted using a variety of methods. Such methods include hydraulic fracturing, vertical drilling, and horizontal drilling.
  • Oil extraction – The process of extracting usable petroleum from beneath the earth’s surface.
  • Biomass extraction – The extraction of plant-based materials for the production of heat or electricity.

Five Top Primary Sector Industries

1. Agriculture

Agriculture or farming includes “all forms of activities connected with growing, harvesting and primary processing of all types of crops, with the breeding, raising and caring for animals, and with tending gardens and nurseries” (Joint ILO/WHO Committee on Occupational Health, 1962).

Any person engaged in activities related to agriculture is considered an agricultural worker and, by extension, a primary sector worker.

The major agricultural products include foods, fuels, and raw materials like rubber. Food classes include cereal grains, fruits, vegetables, vegetable oils, meats, eggs, milk, and mushrooms.

Despite the proportional decrease of primary sector workers in recent decades, over one-third of the world’s workers are still employed in agriculture, second only to the tertiary sector.

2. Mining

Mining includes the extraction of any valuable or other geological materials from the earth.

Ores recovered through mining include but are not limited to metals, coal, gemstones, limestone, chalk, gravel, and clay. Mining is necessary to obtain materials that cannot be grown through agricultural practices and cannot be created artificially in a laboratory or factory.

In a wider sense, mining can also include the extraction of any non-renewable resource, such as water, oil, or natural gas.

There are two common excavation types: surface mining and underground (sub-surface) mining. The former is much more common today and produces 85% of minerals in the US (Hartman & Mutmansky, 2002, p. 11).

Surface mining is done by removing surface vegetation, dirt, and bedrock to reach ore deposits. Underground mining consists of digging tunnels into the earth to reach ore deposits. Some mining, such as uranium mining, is done by a different method known as in-situ leaching or solution mining.

3. Hunting

Harvesting food and collecting materials for useful animal products are the most common reasons to hunt.

The importance of wildlife to local communities is becoming more and more relevant. “Wildlife is increasingly considered in terms of wild animal production and occupies just as relevant a position as domestic animal production” (Chardonnet et al., 2002, p. 15).

Any type of hunting that is aimed at the production of food or other animal products is part of the primary sector of the economy.

4. Logging

Logging is the process of cutting, processing, and moving trees. Logging provides the raw materials used for many products.

Examples of such products include construction, housing, energy, paper, and so on. Logging systems are often used for forest management, wildfire risk reduction, and ecosystem restoration.

Logging can either include just the logistics of moving wood, or a range of other forestry and silviculture activities.

There are three main industrial methods for logging: tree-length logging, whole-tree logging, and cut-to-length logging. In the case of tree-length logging, trees are felled, delimbed, and topped at the stump.

The slash is left in the cut area. In the case of whole-tree logging, trees are felled and transported, leaving the top and limbs (branches) intact. In the case of cut-to-length logging, the trees are felled, delimbed, and sorted at the stump area, leaving the limbs and tops in the forest. All of these are primary sector activities.

5. Quarrying

Quarrying is the removal of stones from their natural bed using different methods (Duggal, 2017, p. 52).

Methods of quarrying include digging (when the quarry consists of small and soft stones), heating (when the natural rock bed is horizontal and thin), blasting (the removal of stones through explosions), and wedging (when the natural rock bed has fissures).

Since quarrying is used for the extraction of raw materials, it is considered a part of the primary sector of the economy.

Conclusion

Economic activities are traditionally grouped into three categories. These are the primary, secondary, and tertiary sectors. Two additional economic sectors are considered extensions of the tertiary sector: the quaternary and the quinary sectors. All activities aiming at the extraction, retrieval, production or harvesting of raw materials are part of the primary sector of the economy.

References

Chardonnet, Ph., Des Clers, B., Fisher, J. R., Gerhold, R., Jori, F., & Lamarque, F. (2002). The value of wildlife. Revue Scientifique et Technique de l’OIE, 21(1), 15–51. https://doi.org/10.20506/rst.21.1.1323

Clark, C. (1940). The Conditions of Economic Progress. London: Macmillan.

Duggal, S. K. (2017). Building Materials. New York: CRC Press.

Hartman, H. L., & Mutmansky, J. M. (2002). Introductory Mining Engineering. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons.

Joint ILO/WHO Committee on Occupational Health. (1962). Occupational Health Problems in Agriculture: Fourth Report. New York: World Health Organization.

Kuznets, S. (1966). Modern Economic Growth. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Lundahl, M. (2015). The Primary Sector in Economic Development (Routledge Revivals): Proceedings of the Seventh Arne Ryde Symposium, Frostavallen, August 29-30 1983. London: Routledge.

World Bank Open Data. (2022, October 28). Agriculture, forestry, and fishing, value added (% of GDP). Retrieved October 28, 2022, from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NV.AGR.TOTL.ZS

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.

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