About a third of the population of Ecuador works in agriculture,
producing bananas, coffee, cocoa, rice and potatoes. However, few people own the land
they work. Also, landowners do not need as many labourers as they once did. They let
animals graze on their land and use machinery for cultivation. With no land to work,
many Ecuadorians live in poverty. In some rural areas men leave to find work in the
city while their wives and children remain behind.
In cities such as Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil, people work in manufacturing, commerce and services. Most work for family businesses, producing beverages, textiles, and tobacco. Ecuador's forestry industry produces balsa wood and rubber and the local fisheries catch tuna. There are also important hydroelectric power plants in Ecuador.
The Ecuadorian government has opened up the entire Oriente region, including the nature parks, for oil extraction. A pipeline crosses the Andes, delivering oil to the port of Esmeraldas on the coast. In the 1990s oil represented almost half of Ecuador's total exports. Although oil is important to the economy, it has caused environmental problems in the Amazonian rainforest. The gas that escapes during oil extraction is burned off, producing poisonous substances, which kill millions of insects.
Ecuador has a growing tourist industry. The Gal pagos Islands are a popular tourist destination. Tourism has helped preserve indigenous arts and crafts. San Antonio de Ibarra is known for woodcarving, Otavalo produces fine handweaving. Shops in Calderon sell dolls made out of bread dough and those in Salcedo sell finely woven sisal bags called shigras.
Since poverty is widespread, more and more children are joining the work force. In Quito, children walk up and down the street selling chewing gum, sweets, cigarettes or flowers, or providing shoe polishing services to tourists. Many children end up living on the streets.
The indigenous peoples of Ecuador include the Quichua, Shuar and Achuar, who live in permanent agricultural settlements.The semi-nomadic Cofan and Siona-Secoya peoples gather food and move their settlements every few years. The Huaorani are nomadic. Life for these peoples is changing because of the oil industry, which has put their traditional environment at risk.