Subsistence and Commercial Activities. A combination of subsistence agriculture and animal husbandry predominates in the local economy, especially for women and the elderly. For many adult men, however, temporary migration out of the area to find wage labor is the primary economic strategy. In Zumbagua, moving contraband cane alcohol produced in the western lowlands up over the mountains into the White towns for sale or bringing it into the parish also provides cash income for some families. In Tigua cash is generated for some families by making artesanías (paintings, masks, baskets) for sale to ethnic arts stores in Quito.
The primary agricultural activities are the production of barley, fava beans, and potatoes and other tubers, all primarily for consumption within the household. Sheep and llama pastoralism are next in importance, again being raised primarily for home consumption; pigs, raised on household scraps, are kept to be sold when emergency funds are needed.
Industrial Arts. Implements made in the area include a variety of wooden and stone tools, including mortars and pestles; shallow rectangular basins ( bateas ) of all sizes, from bathtubs to serving vessels; handles for tools such as hoes and shovels; and so on. Production is somewhat specialized, with higher comunas near the rocky outcroppings of the hills making stone objects and low comunas near the cloud forest doing woodworking.
Weaving and spinning are also important, although the replacement of locally made textiles with purchased clothing has lessened the role these arts play in the economy. Men's ponchos and blankets are woven by men on large backstrap looms; smaller looms are used to make belts and hair ribbons, items used as gifts for wives or daughters. Spinning is women's work.
The construction of the chaquiwasi is also an industrial art requiring a good deal of knowledge, especially botanical, since the roof is basically a huge basket made of several different kinds of woods, reeds, and grasses, some of which are brought down from the highest zones by women and some of which are brought up from the low cloud-forest zones by men.
Trade. Trading with inhabitants of other ecological zones is much curtailed by the cash economy and by the increasing impoverishment of local people, which leaves them with less and less in the way of surplus. Reciprocity remains an important and elaborated aspect of social relations, especially between adult kin and compadres (fictive kin). Most households strive to maintain ties with other households who have complementary access to resources, primarily defined in terms of access to higher or lower elevations.
Division of Labor. There is some specialization by sex, with men heavily involved in wage labor and with craft production somewhat gendered. The role of musician is exclusively male. As is typical of the Andes, however, gender divisions are loosely constituted, with persons of either sex readily crossing over to lend a hand or taking over a task if no one of the other sex is available.
There is also some age specialization, with a host of necessary but trivial tasks being thought of as the domain of children; these include fetching water or fuel, caring for infants, feeding the household animals, and so on, although all these tasks are frequently done by adults, especially women, if there are no children at hand.
Many individuals or households have some specialized craft or trade, whether it be weaving, shamanism or curing, or an occupation that generates income either from outside of the area, such as artesanía production, or from the sale of items obtained elsewhere to local residents, often in small dry-goods stores or stalls in the weekly markets.
Land Tenure. Land for planting is held by individuals, never by families or groups, although people count the wealth of families and households by considering their joint holdings. Pastoral land, in contrast, is held by the comuna.