Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Pima Bajo cash income is derived from agricultural wage labor for mestizos (who are called "Blancos" by the Pima), or in large agribusinesses near Ciudad Obregón, and from labor in the mining and timber industries. Mine wages exceed those from rancho farming, but such work is rarely permanent; miners face frequent layoffs and long periods of unemployment. Sawmills likewise tend to offer only temporary employment.
Pima Bajo have traditionally depended on agriculture. Many Pima, even while working in the mines or sawmills, maintain an economic partnership with family members who remain at the rancho. Working sons may send money home or return to help with the harvest or other agricultural work. In the highlands, the average Pima usually farms 0.4 hectares of arable land intensively along a river and keeps 1.6 hectares for grazing or hoe cultivation on hillsides. The basic crops are beans and maize; these are supplemented with squashes, wheat, potatoes, watermelons, and legumes. Flowers, tomatoes, green beans, chilies, onions, garlic, and other vegetables are grown in small fenced gardens. Pima Bajo maintain pear, peach, and, occasionally, apple trees; they also raise a few chickens and turkeys. Cattle are rare, and horses, mules, and oxen even more rare. The gathering of food plants, hunting, and fish trapping with narcotic plants are still very important during periods of drought and food shortage.
Economic exchange includes reciprocal relations with brothers, brothers-in-law, nephews, and paternal uncles, as well as other affinally and consanguineally related persons or compadres. The exchange may involve the loan of a draft animal or a labor partnership known as a medias, in which one partner provides seed and labor and the second land and labor. In times of crisis, such as death, childbirth, drought, or conflicting obligations, a type of generalized reciprocity exists: assistance will be given without expectation of immediate or near-future return. When persons not of the nuclear family or of a different ethnic group are involved, the reciprocal relationship will be more temporary and quid pro quo; a Pima farmer might exchange with a Blanco store owner wild honey for cheese, venison for nonperishable goods, or palm fiber for a share in the profits of hat and mat making. In a situation in which many Pima are unable to become economically self-sufficient because of an inadequate supply of good land or a lack of draft animals, plows, or seeds, the pooling of resources and the striking of bargains with Pima and non-Pima alike make economic survival more likely. In addition, this arrangement can strengthen family relationships, provide a greater variety of foods, and act as an insurance policy against the failure of a part or all of one's crops.
Despite the potential effectiveness of economic exchange in keeping Pima families and culture intact, an increasing number of Mountain Pima become migrant laborers by necessity. Many move because of conflicts over the use or ownership of land and poor prospects for employment in the local mining and lumber industries. With their families or alone, they leave home in small groups for destinations in Ciudad Obregón, Hermosillo, or Navajoa to perform unskilled labor such as tending irrigating ditches, chopping cotton, and harvesting crops. The more experienced Pima may even travel a circuit of Sonoran towns and cities where peak work seasons occur at different times. Most of those who move away from the mountains frequently maintain home ties through economic and social reciprocity during visits and by receiving visitors from the mountains. Some individuals who remain at the workplace for many years lose their ties with Pima culture and become absorbed into the larger Mexican society.
Division of Labor. Within the core nuclear family, women usually are in charge of the domestic work such as cooking, washing, housekeeping, weaving, pottery making, and child care. Adult males are responsible for heavy labor such as farming and house building, and the young children are expected to watch the crops after seeding to protect them from birds and other scavengers. Older children assist their parents.
Land Tenure. The Pima were found living in what the Spaniards called rancherías, small groups of households surrounded by cultivated fields. The surrounding lands were used in common for small slash-and-burn cultivation, hunting, fishing, and gathering of medicinal plants. Over time, the Pima have lost possession of most of their land to intrusive Spaniards and mestizos. Outsiders considered the land open, unused, and therefore free to be settled. They characterized as grossly inefficient the land-tenure practices of the Pima, who used shifting cultivation of small tracts of land and communal lands for hunting and other purposes. The outsiders reasoned that, because the land was not being used appropriately from their point of view, they could assume ownership. Blanco ranchers today believe that only the farming of large tracts of land is efficient and good for the state's economy. The Pima continue to believe that the land has been theirs for centuries and that the mestizos are intruders who have gained possession through dubious means. The Pima also have ejidal lands, which are cultivated in individual plots and held in common.