Subsistence and Agricultural Activities. Subsistence agriculture, supplemented by marginal employment, characterizes the economic life of most rural Sri Lankan Tamils. A Significant source of income for many families today is foreign remittances. Save in the eastern coastal region, where irrigation produces high rice yields, rice agriculture in Tamil areas is extensive but rainfall-dependent and only marginally Economic at best. Under import restrictions following Sri Lanka's independence, Jaffna became a major source of Garden crops, including tomatoes, chilies, onions, tobacco, gourds, pumpkins, okra, brinjal (eggplants), betel, potatoes, manioc, and a variety of grams and pulses. Traditional agricultural practices make intensive use of green and animal manures, although the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is increasingly common. In coastal regions with limestone bedrock (and particularly in Jaffna), groundwater is intensively used to supplement rainfall; irrigation is rare, save in the eastern coastal region. Domestic animals include cattle and chickens. Significant foods of last recourse include manioc and the ubiquitous palmyra, which supplies starch from seedlings, molasses, jam, and a mildly alcoholic beverage called toddy. Rapid growth in the service section (especially retailing, transport, communications, banking, public administration, education, health services, repair, and construction) has created significant new employment opportunities.
Industrial Arts. Some members of the artisan castes (goldsmiths, blacksmiths, carpenters, potters, and temple builders) still create traditional goods, such as jewelry, ox carts, hoes, and cooking pots, although such goods face stiff competition from industrially manufactured plastic and aluminum goods, so that traditional goods are increasingly used only for ceremonial purposes. Very few industrial enterprises are located in Tamil regions, with the exception of the state-owned cement factory at Kankesanthurai along the northern coast, the chemical factory at Paranthan, and a paper factory at Valaichenei in the east. Private-sector ventures include manufacturing or assembly of garments, toys, candies, bottled juices, and soap. But indigenous goods are regarded as shoddy and receive stiff competition from imports and rampant smuggling.
Trade. The rural economy is thoroughly cash-based. Village boutique owners and wealthy villagers often engage other more impecunious villagers in what eventually becomes debt servitude. Shops in town sell needed consumer items, and weekly village markets provide marginal economic niches for itinerant traders and village cash-crop agriculturalists. Transport is provided by bullock carts, tractors pulling flatbed trailers, old automobiles, light trucks, and the ubiquitous Ceylon Transit Board (CTB), the nation's bus service.
Division of Labor. Traditional Sri Lankan Tamil society is male-dominated and patriarchal, with a strong division of labor by sex, arranged marriages, and a tendency to demean female roles. Female seclusion is a concomitant of family Status, thus discouraging women from travel or work without a constant chaperone. However, significant new employment and educational opportunities for women cause many Families to moderate the traditional division of labor as they seek additional income. In general, women are responsible for Domestic affairs while men work outside the home in agriculture, transport, industry, services, and government.
Land Tenure. Land is held outright but holdings tend to be both minute and geographically fragmented. Bilateral Inheritance, coupled with population increase, compounds subdivision. Landlessness is increasingly common and delays or prevents marriage because traditional dowry customs require the married pair to be given lands and a house.