Páez - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Páez are peasant farmers; they raise potatoes, coffee, or hemp (depending on the altitude at which they live) for sale and grow plantains, manioc, maize, or Andean tubers for domestic consumption. There is also some coca grown in the lower reaches of Tierradentro, consumed by the ever-shrinking number of older people who still chew it. Crops are generally cultivated with hand tools available on the regional market; commercial technology is used for processing hemp and coffee for sale to intermediaries. Crops raised for domestic consumption are generally grown on small plots, using slash-and-burn techniques; coffee, coca, and hemp are more permanent crops. In the nineteenth century quinine bark and laurel wax were gathered in many communities; most of the quinine forests were severely depleted at this time. Domestic animals include pigs, cattle, turkeys, and chickens.

Trade and Labor. In most settlements a number of small stores stock commercial goods, but the population sells most of its produce and purchases goods at regional markets. Individual households are also connected by barter relationships with other communities, as well as with the neighboring Guambiano. Some of these relationships provide households with products grown in other ecological zones, as in the exchange of coca for potatoes. In other instances, exchange relationships link households on the two slopes of the cordillera, thus ensuring a steady supply of maize even in times of shortage between harvests. The Páez economy is also characterized by multiple modes of labor exchange that connect households in a web of reciprocal obligations; festive labor exchanges also characterize communal work projects. In some communities a considerable proportion of the population has migrated either temporarily or on a more long-term basis to nearby cities, as well as to coffee plantations to work as wage laborers.

Land Tenure. Seventy percent of the land in the Páez region is resguardo territory, meaning that it is communal land granted in usufruct to community members and administered by an elected council, or cabildo. The vast majority of the Páez are resguardo members, although between 15 and 20 percent are landless; land-claim activities have done much to integrate the land-poor into the community economy, especially on the western slopes of the cordillera.

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