Benin is predominantly an agricultural country. About 55% of the economically active population was engaged in the agricultural sector in 2000, which accounted for 38% of GDP that year. Small, independent farmers produce 90% of agricultural output, but only about 17% of the total area is cultivated, much of it in the form of collective farms since 1975. The agricultural sector is plagued by a lack of infrastructure, poor utilization of rural credit, and inefficient and insufficient use of fertilizer, insecticides, and seeds. Smuggling of crops for export or the domestic black market results in understating of crop figures. An estimated 20% of output is informally traded with Nigeria. The main food crops are manioc, yams, corn, sorghum, beans, rice, sweet potatoes, pawpaws, guavas, bananas, and coconuts. Production estimates for the main food crops for 1999 were yams, 1,771,000 tons; manioc, 2,377,000 tons; corn, 823,000 tons; sorghum, 154,000 tons; rice, 36,000 tons; dry beans, 94,000 tons; sweet potatoes, 67,000 tons; and millet, 34,000 tons. Benin is self-sufficient in food crops, given favorable weather conditions.
Palm products were long Benin's principal export crop, but in recent years cotton has increased in importance, with production increasing tenfold since 1981. Despite improved production, however, cotton storage and ginning capacity are still insufficient. Production of most cash crops fell between the 1970s and 1980s because of drought and state mismanagement. Cotton is grown on some 175,000 hectares (432,400 acres), and the crop is managed by the National Agricultural Society for Cotton. Cotton production was 175,000 tons in 1999, up from 76,000 tons in 1991. Peanut production has also recently become important; in 1999, 121,000 tons of shelled groundnuts were produced from 145,000 hectares (359,000 acres). These statistics are distorted by the smuggling of cash crops to and from Nigeria, depending on which country's prices are more attractive. Some 400,000 hectares (990,000 acres) of natural palms are exploited, and there are 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of palm plantations, the largest of which is managed by SOBEPALH, a government enterprise producing palm oil and cottonseed oil. Palm oil production was 10,000 tons in 1999 and palm kernel output was 14,000 tons. Other crops with their 1999 production figures were cashews, 10,000 tons; bananas, 13,000 tons; mangoes, 12,000 tons; and coconuts, 20,000 tons.