The Eleme are traditionally an agricultural society, with workers travelling out to farms situated around the villages. Crops include yams, cassava, palm-oil fruit, fluted pumpkin and bitter-leaf. Crops are primarily used to sustain each family, but each family also typically trades their excess crops at one of the town markets. Even where family members are employed outside of agriculture, they still farm their own land as a supplement income. Farm workers are usually women.
With the discovery of oil in the Niger Delta in the 1958, the Eleme territory has become home to both Oil Refineries and Fertilizer industries, increasing the role of a more industrial economy. The nearest oil refinery is within a mile of an Eleme village, and around 100 wells are thought to be in use throughout the Ogoni territory. The mining of oil has had notable political and environmental effects on the status of the Niger Delta, with pollution from national industries based on Ogoni-land increasing acid rain and reducing soil, water and air qualities. Unsurprisingly, Ogoni-land has become an area of much political interest over the last 40 years since oil exploration is estimated to account for around 65% of Nigerian Government budgetary revenue and 95% of all foreign exchange earnings (www.odci.gov). Consequent high levels of migration into Eleme territory by other ethnic groups in Nigeria have made a sizeable impact on Eleme society. The presence of non-Elemes hoping to find work within the chemical industries has affected the social importance of Eleme cultural identity, raising concerns over the retention of Eleme cultural practices and language use.