Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Saraguro's basic agro-pastoral adaptation is shared by most rural indigenous and mestizo communities in highland Ecuador. Maize, potatoes, wheat, barley, and beans are tilled by bullock-pulled plows. Important capital improvements include field drainage and stone-and-agave field borders. Terracing and irrigation systems used in precolonial times are not maintained today. Harvests are dried and stored for household consumption and are rarely sold. Cattle are kept in private and communal pastures on plateaus overlooking the barrios. Milk, fresh cheese, and cattle are the primary sources of cash, which is used to purchase tools and consumer goods and to finance economic ventures and religious cargoes (see Religious Practitioners). Households also raise sheep for wool and guinea pigs, swine, rabbits, and chickens for meat.
Industrial Arts. The Saraguro spin and weave wool, sew, do bead work, embroider blouses, and make household furnishings, musical instruments, tools, and utensils. Most craft items are used in the household, but a small fraction are sold to Indians, blancos, and the occasional tourist.
Trade. Cattle and cattle products are the major means of obtaining cash storing and wealth. Some households also sell eggs, swine, and wool. A few households engage in commercial crafts production, and one barrio has established a weaving cooperative. Some men work as day laborers in house construction, and a few Saraguro are employed in health care, teaching, and other professions.
Division of Labor. Men engage in heavy agricultural labor, weave, and do most of the large-scale commercial work. Women perform lighter agricultural tasks and manage most domestic activities and interhousehold trade. Both men and women tend livestock and prepare crops for storage. Older children spend considerable time assisting parents in child care and in crafts, preparation of food, and production for cash.
Land Tenure. Most cropland and pasture are owned by individuals. Holdings are often dispersed throughout the barrio. Some pasture is held communally by each barrio. Cropland and pasture are freely rented, bought, and sold to other Indians. Although ownership of barrio land by non-Indians is officially illegal, some Saraguro have lost land to townspeople for nonpayment of loans.