Subsistence and Commercial Activities. In precolonial times the main crops were various types of millet. Now, except in the drier areas, maize is predominant. Groundnuts and various vegetables are also grown for relish. Early in the colonial period, farmers grew surpluses for sale. Cash crops such as tobacco and cotton are also grown. Today, shortages of land are acute in many areas, and few Shona are able to make much of an income from farming. Agriculture is largely supported by salaried or wage labor in the towns. A cash income in the family allows for expenditure on implements and on quality seed and fertilizers, which increase agricultural output.
Except in the low-lying, tsetse-fly-infested areas, cattle are widely kept. Traditionally, cattle comprised the main indicator of wealth. They retain importance in this respect in the rural areas and have the added utility of providing draft power. Other domestic animals include goats, sheep, pigs, donkeys, and various types of poultry.
Industrial Arts. In the rural areas everyone is involved in agriculture and there are no full-time specialists. In the past there was extensive iron and gold smelting, but all the surface gold has now been mined, and superior iron is now obtained from modern plants. One still finds blacksmiths in many villages, however. Traditional crafts of basketwork and pottery are still widespread. One now finds carpenters, builders, tailors, and other semiskilled specialists in many rural areas. Women engage in sewing and knitting, now often on a cooperative basis.
Trade. Although there is a long history of trade both between Shona groups and with outsiders, there were traditionally no markets in Shona settlements. These are now well established in cities, towns, and many rural centers of administration and trade. Even the remotest areas have access to some stores in which basic consumer goods are sold.
Division of Labor. The division of labor in Shona society is primarily based on sex. Women make pottery, do all the domestic work, and perform many of the less strenuous agricultural tasks. Men are responsible for more strenuous (but less time-consuming) agricultural work, raising cattle, hunting, and ironwork. They are also involved in politics, which requires much sitting around and talking.
Certain men, such as a chief or a man with many daughters, can expect to have dependents do chores for them. People with good incomes from wages or salaries are now able to employ others to do some of their agricultural work.
Land Tenure. Traditionally, every adult man was given land by his father or village headman. Land could not be bought or sold; it was returned to the community for redistribution when no longer in use. Now there is a scarcity of agricultural land in most communities, and land rights are carefully guarded and inherited. Land has acquired a commercial value. Grazing land, however, remains communal and, except in freehold commercial-farming areas, is habitually overused.