Maize, otherwise known as milpa, is central to the lives of the Q'eqchi'. It is produced through swidden agriculture: at the beginning of each growing season, the farmer chooses his field, marks it with stones, burns the vegetation on the growing area, and plants his crop. Coffee and cardamom are also cultivated as cash crops.
The staples of the Q'eqchi' diet are maize, beans, and chilies. Other crops supplementing the diet are squashes, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes. Fish caught in mountain streams are also consumed.
There is a certain degree of flexibility within the division of labor between men and women, but most agricultural production is performed by males, and most food-processing and household maintenance is completed by females. Many Q'eqchi' women are also skilled in textile production. On their looms they create intricately woven and brocaded blouses.
Differing policies by the Guatemalan and Belizean governments have shaped Q'eqchi' land tenure in these respective countries. Privatization of tribal lands in Guatemala has forced many to become day and migrant laborers. In Belize, the government has allowed the Q'eqchi' to live on reservations. In both countries, individuals lease government lands or simply squat on government lands unofficially.