Say you were to have anywhere from one to ten people on an island in the ocean (On Earth). Close enough to get to the mainland for luxury items that can't be grown. The people living here want basic amenities, such as electricity and internet access. What would be required to make one to ten people completely self sufficient, and where would it have to be?

Edit: I realize I wasn't especially clear. These people are coming from a mainland or somewhere where they could bring basic starting equipment, such as the solar panels and such. The internet is unimportant, but I suppose one way to phrase it would be to say that these people are choosing to leave their life on the mainland and make their own island.

Sorry for all the confusion!

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    $\begingroup$ Hi Renny, welcome to the site. Could we have some more information. First of all do they have to build up from scratch or could they bring solar panels or something with them. Secondly do these people/person need to be comfortable or just the basics? $\endgroup$ Jul 24 '16 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by luxuries? Are they weaving their own clothing? Do they have a black smith? A source of iron ore? Are they going to import any building materials? Are you JUST talking about self-sufficiency in regards to food? This is pretty vague. $\endgroup$ Jul 24 '16 at 16:06
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    $\begingroup$ Money! That's the only answer if you are 1 to 10 individuals. Otherwise, I don't think it can be done from scratch given your conditions about amenities. Internet access is clearly not a "basic" amenity. A basic amenity would be a toilet connected to a septic tank. And that would be pretty advanced if you can't construct it yourself. $\endgroup$ Jul 24 '16 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ read about Kiribati, they have(had) internet, pretty sufficient. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jul 25 '16 at 6:15
  • $\begingroup$ self-sufficiency is not a problem as long as the island is large enough to grow food and lumber. just look at island civilizations. the real question is what level of technology do they want, the more technology they want the harder self sufficiency becomes.If they are going to live like a pacific islander they don't need much. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Nov 19 '16 at 17:40


If you've got a large enough semi-tropical island, food can be done by a single person alone. See Robinson Crusoe for the details. Alright, slight correction: survival can be done if the single person has some hunting/fishing/wilderness survival experience, which is not granted anymore in today's society. But the island must be large enough with enough humanly edible plants and animals, otherwise the question is moot.

If you can take some 'luxury items' with you to the island, the first 'luxury item' should be a lot of grain and other seeds so that you can skip the stoneage hunter-gatherer part of Robinson Crusoe and can advance to farming right away. Is a lot easier and more reliable. Maybe even take some live cattle/poultry/... with you so that you don't have to go hunting?

Second 'luxury item' unless you want to eat everything raw: a large metal pot and flintstone. Creating fire with a fire bow will leave you very sore, if you ever manage it.


Once again, that depends on the climate of your island and your people's knowledge. If your island has a cave -- use that. If you've got lots of trees and you can import 'luxury items' like an axe, a saw and some nails, build a house from wood. Depending on your knowledge of house construction, you might even manage to make it water proof.

If you don't have those luxury items, you might manage to create a lean-to from broken branches or weaving branches, grass and leaves together -- once again, basic survival. Live in the cave/shelter while you're using your 'luxury items' to build your real house?

Basic infrastructure

This only makes sense once you've got the very basics of food and shelter covered. Electricity is not part of basic infrastructure. Basic infrastructure would be something like a carpenter who can create furniture, wagons, etc. (provided that he has luxury goods like 'saw', 'axe', and perhaps also 'nails'. Or a weaver who knows how and where to collect what to make a reliable thread, spinning the thread, and then weaving it to cloth. Or a leather worker who knows how to treat animal skin correctly so that you get good leather, and who knows how to make buckets, shoes, or other tools from leather.

This is the point already where one person alone simply can't cover things anymore. The very basics (crude leather, clunky furniture, easily torn fabric) -- maybe, but a lot of those very basic vocations need special knowledge to create products of a high enough standard that someone today could call it 'basic amenity'. Not least of all, everything is incredibly time consuming. Since you already have to take care of your farm and your cattle and processing the basic ingredients until you actually have edible food to keep yourself fed and sheltered, division of work must start here.


Unless you have luxury items that actually need electricity -- forget about it. Electricity makes you a lot less self-sufficient because without metal work infrastructure to create even something as simple as wire you would need to import everything and anything to do with electricity. You can't even repair it properly if it gets broken beyond 'a frayed wire'. Not to mention that plastic (insulation for cables etc.) is pretty much nonrepairable. Or you need to create a tree sap industry that creates enough gum so that you can repair breaks in the cable insulation???

If you do want to take that risk, get a generator that you can run either on water power or on wood (steampunk go!). Everything else makes you too reliant on either good weather (solar energy), high winds (wind energy) or fossilized fuel (standard portable generators today). And get electric items that are as low-tech as possible -- like simple light bulbs with a wire, none of that LED crap. Light bulbs can handle variations in the electrical current a LOT better than the high-tech stuff.

If you import farming equipment that runs on electricity though, that could help you expand your basic infrastructure.

Internet Connection

Same case as 'electricity', only to the extreme. Internet connection implies microchips and technology that is a lot less robust than simple electric items. You'd have to import everything, including the antenna to reach land or the sattelite connection. And a generator that provides you a steady current of a certain voltage and amperage -- no fluctuations allowed that might melt your chips.

Another thing: having an internet connection implies having the time to actually use the internet, i.e. free time. I think you will be too busy to keep your autark little world floating to really have any free time to spend... the evenings inside your house will be filled with mending, repairing, sewing, weaving, washing, polishing your carving skills, etc. -- things that are necessary to keep or enhance your level of comfort. (Unless of course you import enough 'luxury items' that make work easier that you once again do have free time).

  • $\begingroup$ Assuming you can obtain (rather than build it yourself) the necessary equipment, supplying high quality power is a solved problem. For that matter, you can charge most battery-powered devices with a fairly basic generator if you have the charger that came with it. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Mar 19 '20 at 19:51

Well, it depends what you count as self-sufficient. That small group can readily feed themselves if the island is not desolate, by some combination of hunting, gathering, fishing and farming. The best combination depends on the climate and resources of the island. If there is no natural fresh water on the island, they'll need some means of gathering rain and/or evaporating and condensing sea-water, and their life is much more precarious.

The thing they absolutely cannot do by themselves is build computers and fibre-optic cables from scratch to give themselves internet access. That just involves too many kinds of complex industry for ten people to build.

In between those extremes, that are a lot of things that "civilised" people expect that this small group will have to import if they want them. Medicines, metalwork, tools, books, clothing, electric generators, wiring, light bulbs, food that won't grow in this climate, all kinds of things. And they need some way to pay for all of this. There's a reason why comfortable private islands are something that only very rich people have.

The amount of civilisation you can have depends pretty directly on the number of people you have and the productivity of your agriculture. Small groups can't sustain much civilisation without trade.


It cannot be done with the requirements you make.

Self sufficiency is something that can be achieved by a small group. However, you list a requirement to have "basic amenities" like electricity and internet access. These two amenities, which are far from "basic," call for hardware which simply cannot be produced on the island and will have to be purchased. Hardware will break down, so replacement items will be needed. If you had a large number of people (a million or more, perhaps) it may be reasonable to have your own hardware lab and silicon foundry, though powering those may call for an extremely large number of solar panels.

Given that your minimum requirements for amenities include things which cannot be had while maintaining self-sufficiency, I think you're stuck. You should decrease the definition of "basic amenities" to things like food and water and shelter, and then explore self sufficiency.


Clothing--will people weave their own? They going to be growing cotton? How self-sufficient is "completely Self-sufficient"?

Building materials--are you importing dry-wall? Or do these completely self-sufficient folk cut down trees on the island and use coquina to make their walls? Even the settlers in St. Augustine got a ship from Spain every once in a while. But they did eventually weave their own cloth, and had their own blacksmith.

Best models to look at are early colonies like St. Augustine and such. If we had a better idea of what you mean (because this is a really wide range and it is very vague), we could more easily answer the question. Know you are new to the site, so welcome!


What it requires is starting with some pretty extreme technology--the fabricator of Star Trek or the like. It's impossible for a group that small to have all the required skills, let alone the time to do all the various tasks.


First of all you need to decide exactly what 'self sufficient' means, the most rigorous definition would be that once they arrive they can only use local resources and must trade for anything else they need.


This depends a bit of climate and terrain. Clearly the ideal situation is to have a favourable climate and plenty of flat fertile land. You would certainly want a variety of crops and livestock both to mitigate any failures of one particular crop and to ensure a reasonably balanced diet. On an island fishing is a good way to supplement the diet it may also be worth creating inland ponds to farm fresh water fish.

As well as food agriculture can provide a lot of other useful resources. You will want fibres for textiles and cordage, plant and animal fats can be used for fuel, lighting, lubrication and waterproofing and leather from hides is a very versatile material. Also fast growing woods such as willow can be coppiced to provide both fuel and building material.

Careful choice of crops will help here, although bulk crops like wheat and an efficient way to get the most calories out of a given area of land this type of farming is very labour intensive without mechanisation and for a small population a mix of livestock and a kitchen garden/smallholding approach may be more manageable.


You may also want to manage more mature woodland to get the most out of it as it can provide a variety of useful wild plants, a habitat for game as well as timber for fuel, tools and building. Indeed if you have a big wood and a small population it may be a more labour efficient resource than farming.


This should be fairly straightforward, there are building techniques to suit any range of local materials and conditions you can think of although you may require some specialist skills to make the best use of them for example a round house design is a good way to build with natural materials and simple tools.


There are some basic tools that you will need to be able to make and maintain for any reasonable definition of self sufficiency, spades, knives, axes carpentry tools and cooking utensils will all be vital in the long term. A properly trained blacksmith should be able to provide all of this with the main energy requirement being charcoal to fuel the forge. A water wheel would also be very useful as it can provide motive power for bellows, grinders, drop hammers etc which will greatly reduce the labour required.

So a forge will allow you to keep all of your other trades supplied with well maintained tools and equipment. Unless you are lucky enough to have easily accessible iron deposits on your island a good stock of steel and other metals will be vital as this is one thing that you can't get from farming. On the plus side most of the metals you will be using are readily recyclable.

A basic engineering workshop with welding and machining facilities would be very valuable and this would probably have first call on any source of electricity you have.

Clothing and textiles

Making clothing from scratch is pretty labour intensive but it is also an activity which lends itself well to doing during downtime in evenings and winters where there isn't much else to do and at least isn't as physically hard as digging or chopping wood. The main materials will be plant and animal fibres and leather.


This is a bit of a stumbling block as you will never have full access to modern medical facilities and be truly self sufficient. It is also expensive whether you pay for it directly on demand, through insurance or indirectly via taxation. So you need to decide what you would do in a real medical emergency.


Anything like a modern electricity supply probably won't be sustainable so you will certainly need to prioritise what you really need. Bear in mind also that a lot of your time will be taken up with essential tasks so sitting watching tv is probably not on the agenda. Heating lighting and cooking can all be taken care of by wood, charcoal, candles, oil lamps etc and your biggest priority for any electricity supply you do have would be functional tools.

There is also the problem that once any electronic equipment breaks down you likely have no way to repair it and really what electronics will you need ?

A much higher priority than the internet would be a decent library with a good selection of reference books on agriculture, animal husbandry, horticulture, medicine, woodwork, engineering etc etc.

For power a good bet would be a small steam engine, these can use any solid fuel and are realistic to maintain long term with basic technology. As well as running a generator they can be used to give direct motive power for driving various machinery.

The trouble with solar panels is that as well as being intermittent they have a limited life and once they fail you have no way to replace them.


The question mentions buying luxuries and this raises the question of money. If you really are self sufficient then that suggests that you are able to trade any surplus goods you produce. The problem here is that your have a adopted a very inefficient lifestyle from a modern commercial perspective and the chances are that a lot of your labour is going into basic subsistence so even in the best case scenario cash is going to be very limited and 'luxury items' will take on a rather different meaning.

With this in mind any cash you do have would be reserved for things which you absolutely can't produce yourself and are of real benefit.


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