Because of rough terrain and high elevations, very little of the Andes is suitable for agriculture. Most of the people live by subsistence farming. However, there are small areas of the tierra caliente where tropical cash crops are raised. The most valuable are bananas, sugar, and cotton. Coffee is the chief commercial crop on the tierra templada, especially in Colombia.

Subsistence farming extends through the middle and highland zones. On the tierra templada, corn and temperate fruits and vegetables are grown; on the tierra fría, hardy strains of wheat and barley. At high elevations Indians raise llamas and alpacas. These animals, unique to the Andes, produce wool and milk and are agile pack animals. Llamas are also used for meat.