Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The majority of Shan are farmers growing rice to eat and a variety of crops to sell. Ideally Shan grow rice in irrigated fields; however, in areas where there is limited irrigable land, they also slashand-burn fields to grow hill rice. In Thailand farming is becoming mechanized as people buy small tractors to replace water buffalo and as they use threshing machines for both rice and soybeans. Farming in Myanmar is not mechanized. What cash crops people grow depend on local ecology and the village's location; near towns and larger villages people grow vegetables to sell in the market. Elsewhere, they grow soybeans, peanuts, garlic, onions, sunflowers, pumpkins, sesame, chili peppers, pineapples, bananas, coconuts, and betel nuts.
Industrial Arts. People use bamboo to make a variety of baskets, mats, and handles for knives and other implements. Metal parts such as knife blades are purchased. In Myanmar, Shan make traditional carrying bags, clothes, carvings, and paintings.
Trade. In the past, Shan men participated in the oxen caravan trade moving industrial goods from India and Burma into northern Thailand. With the development of roads, this caravan trade has disappeared. Now industrial goods move through Thailand into Myanmar in exchange for gems, cattle, and traditional Shan goods. Shan act as wholesalers, moving these goods through northwestern Thailand and eastern Myanmar. In the past, Shan women engaged in more local trade in food and domestic goods. With better transportation, most of this trade has been replaced by markets where women are the retailers.
Division of Labor. Men plow and harrow the irrigated fields and women transplant irrigated rice, although occasionally men may help transplant. Men hunt. Women do most of the domestic work such as laundry, cooking, and carrying water. These tasks are often delegated to a competent girl or occasionally to a boy.
Land Tenure. Hill fields are held in usufruct and not sold. Traditionally irrigated fields were held in usufruct but could be used as security for loans or mortgaged. In Thailand people are now acquiring legal title to their irrigated fields, gardens, and house sites.