Most Bolivians who live in rural areas work as farmers, growing crops such as potatoes, corn, quinoa, bananas, coffee, wheat, coca, rice, sugar cane, beans, cassava, carrots, oranges and brazil nuts. In general, families grow crops for their own or their community's use. Some farmers sell their surplus crops in open-air markets. In small towns, the weekly market day is an important social event.

 Since much of the country is mountainous, people build terraces into the hillsides to make small fields. In the cold altiplano, fields may be surrounded by a ditch filled with water to keep crops from freezing during cold nights. In Bení, in the northern part of Bolivia, people raise beef cattle. In Tarija, in the south, grapes are grown for winemaking.

The service sector employs more than 30% of Bolivian workers. About 5% of Bolivians work in the mining industry and 10% in metal refining and manufacturing. Bolivia has large deposits of tin, silver, gold, iron ore, zinc, lead, antimony, tungsten and copper. Conditions in Bolivian mines are dangerous, but efforts are being made to reduce hazards. Most people in the manufacturing sector work in textile and clothing factories. Many people belong to unions. Two of the largest unions are the Bolivian Labour Confederation and the Teachers' Union.

 Although the cost of living is low in Bolivia, it is still hard for many families to make ends meet, even if both parents work. More than half of the population lives in poverty. Some Bolivians survive by bartering goods and services, or working in unregulated factories and sweatshops. Some children from poor families work in the cities as shoe shiners, domestic servants or street vendors. Although this "underground economy" provides jobs and inexpensive goods, the working conditions are often hazardous.

  Did you know?
In the Lake Titicaca area, lightweight boats made out of balsa wood and tortora reeds have been made since the days of the Incas. In the 1940s, a Norwegian, Thor Heyerdahl, created a replica of an Incan boat and sailed it across the Pacific to prove that Incas could have travelled to Polynesia. He named his boat the Kon-Tiki, after the Incan sun god.
Women play an essential role in the Bolivian economy. In rural areas, they have always been important in keeping farms running. In the cities, more and more women are working in business or as professionals.
  Did you know?
The Chippaya people in the Chaco region hunt birds and animals with weapons called bolas, which are Y-shaped cords with weighted tips. They throw the bolas at their prey. The cords twist around the legs of the birds or animals so they cannot get away.