Tojolab'al - Economy

Land distribution is very irregular. Some settlements have over 3,000 hectares of cultivable land, whereas others have no more than 300. The main difference lies in the quality of the land. Depending on the ecological niche, the kind of crop will vary according to soil type, climate, rainfall, and so forth. In all cases, mountainous lands are communal.

In the highlands, the Tojolab'al cultivate mainly the classic Mesoamerican triad (maize, beans, and squashes), in an effort to be self-sufficient. Those living in the valleys and riverbeds can diversify their cultigens with vegetables, sugarcane, coffee, and citric and other fruits, but those living in the jungle concentrate on the cultivation of coffee and, in some cases, on raising cattle. Forest products (cedar, mahogany, and others) are sold to private and state companies, at risibly low prices.

Tojolab'al living in the highlands, riverbeds, and valleys are obliged to find other ways of boosting their meager family income. They sell their seasonal agricultural surplus in local markets; raise chickens, pigs, and sheep; sometimes sell their handicrafts (embroidered blouses, ceramics, cordage); and—above all—work for wages on coffee plantations, in construction businesses, on maize farms, on cattle ranches, or in sugar mills in the basin of the Río Grijalva. Periods of wage-labor migration can be as long as eight months out of the year (the average is between four and five), and during this time the women are left in charge of all agricultural labor at home, except plowing.

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