Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Nyinba have a diversified economy and engage in agriculture, trade, and animal husbandry, in that order of importance. Agriculture is central, economically and symbolically. Due to the difficult terrain and the high elevation, however, it is both physically demanding and relatively unproductive. Villagers may double-crop their lowest-level fields with winter barley and buckwheat or plant a single crop of millet, amaranth, and beans. At middle elevations wheat and buckwheat are grown, whereas the highest fields are planted only with buckwheat. People grow vegetables—daikons (radishes), turnips, potatoes, peas, pumpkins, Hubbard squash, and cabbages—in small kitchen gardens. Households also own fruit and nut trees: apricot, walnut, apple, and the rare peach tree. On average, households produced approximately 84 bushels of unhusked grain in 1982, a disastrous agricultural year; in a year of good harvests, they expect to produce about 50 percent more. That yield was supplemented by the proceeds of trade and cattle herding. Nyinba do not have access to extensive grasslands, so that cattle herding is limited and continues to contract, as high lands are being converted into farmland. Nonetheless, households keep some cattle, for their milk products and manure.
Industrial Arts. Nyinba villagers employ low-caste Nepali speakers for metalwork and sewing cotton clothing. They employ Tibetan refugees for large carpentry jobs and for religious artwork. Woolen clothes, shoes, and coats are produced at home from their own or imported wool and sheepskins.
Trade. People rely on trade to cushion the inevitable fluctuations in agricultural productivity. This involves exchanging Tibetan and Indian salt for surplus grain produced in the Nepalese midlands. These goods are transported mostly on the backs of agile goats and sheep. Nyinba also trade in yakcow crossbreeds and import high-pasture sheep and wool from Tibet and manufactured goods from India for their own consumption. Trade occupies nearly the entire year, taking its participants from the Tibetan plains through the Nepalese midlands to Indian border towns. In 1982 this trade resulted, on average, in take-home profits of 34 bushels of husked grain, 5 bushels of salt, and diverse commodities for each household with adequate manpower to engage in it.
Division of Labor. Some tasks, most notably plowing, are performed exclusively by men; others, particularly weeding, are performed exclusively by women. Nevertheless, many other subsistence tasks may be performed by either sex. This is quite practical in a society where the number of male and female household members varies widely. To generalize, women engage in a range of agricultural tasks over protracted periods of time, while men's contributions to agriculture are sporadic but very intense. Men are exclusively responsible for trade, while the relatively undemanding task of cattle herding may be entrusted to a child or elderly person of either sex. Women hold the major responsibility for domestic work, Including child care.
Land Tenure. Individual households have rights over farmland, while villages control forests and grazing lands. All Nyinba own some land, though the richer households have vastly more than the poorer ones. The state has ultimate rights over all this land, although they are realized in little more than the right to taxation. Nyinba buy and sell land rarely; it is in short supply and very expensive. In the past, when wastelands were reclaimed, each village household received an equivalent share.