The Chimu were highly competent hydraulic engineers, which was essential to irrigate the desert sufficiently to sustain agriculture.
Crops raised included beans, sweet potato, papaya, and cotton. Evidence of the keeping of llamas as a source of meat has also been uncovered.
The Chimu diet was augmented by seafood, caught in the rich fishing waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Another marine resource, the mollusk shell (Spondylus), also played a key economic and political role. It had its practical use in the manufacture of ornaments, tools, and jewellery; but perhaps more important was its symbolism, as a mark of wealth and status, and therefore a highly-tradable commodity.
The most highly-prized species, Spondylus princeps, was only to be found in the warm waters of what is now Ecuador, and required divers to go as deep as 50 m (164 ft) to prise it off underwater rocks.