Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The basis of the Tuvan economy is and has been livestock breeding augmented by hunting and limited irrigated agriculture. Shepherds continue their traditional way of life, living in yurts and migrating with their herds to specific pastures. Hunting still provides furs for export (squirrels are the most common; sables the most lucrative), and Siberian elk ( maral ) horns are sold to Oriental pharmacists as an aphrodisiac. The principal grain crops—oats, barley, wheat, and millet—are grown for food and fodder. In the 1950s heavily mechanized agriculture was introduced and at first yielded marginally better results, but loss of fertility and soil erosion have since taken their toll. New crops—in particular, vegetables—have been introduced recently, and farmers from northern China have been recruited to show the Tuvans and Russians how to grow them. The predominant industrial activity in Tuva is mining, especially for asbestos, cobalt, coal, gold, and uranium.
The typical Tuvan diet historically has consisted of meat (mutton, beef, horse, goat, camel, reindeer, and wild game), roots, cedar nuts, preserved dairy products such as dried curds ( aarzhy ), melted butter ( sarzhag ), and cheese ( byshtak ), and—for those living close to rivers or lakes—fish. For special festive occasions Tuvans brew arak, fermented milk. In the past Tuvans did not eat bread, fruits, vegetables, or pork, but today all of these are part of the Tuvan diet when they are available.
Division of Labor. Traditionally, there was a clear division of labor, although it did not prevent a husband and wife from working together at the same tasks. Men tended to pasture livestock, sow grain, hunt, and do certain physical household chores, whereas women generally reared children, milked cattle, cooked, and kept house. In recent years this division has been blurred, with women doing many of the same jobs as men—and the children's upbringing being neglected in many cases.
Land Tenure. Land in Tuva was state property during the Soviet period, which has resulted in a host of serious problems, including the predatory exploitation of forests and mineral resources, the flooding of river valleys for hydroelectric projects, and the destruction of pastures and arable land. Beginning in the late 1980s, some limited land reforms were discussed.