Only 2.6% of Chad's land is cultivated. Agriculture engaged 76% of the active population in 1999, and accounted for 39% of GDP. Prolonged periodic droughts and civil war and political instability have cut agricultural production and necessitated food relief. Because of drought, annual cereal production can widely fluctuate. Chad's cereal production totaled 1,400,000 tons in 1999.
Since the 1960s, cotton crops have accounted for a high percentage of Chad's export earnings. Cotton growing began about 1929 and spread gradually throughout southern Chad. Production was 103,000 tons in 1999, still far below the high of 174,062 tons in 1975–76. Production is dominated by the parastatal Coton-Tchad, which regulates output, operates the ginneries and cottonseed-oil works, and markets and exports both cotton and cottonseed. Chad's medium staple cotton is sold to 20 different countries; Germany, Portugal, and Japan are the principal customers. Although most cotton is exported, factories in Chad produce cottonseed oil for domestic consumption.
Production of peanuts has rapidly increased since the early 1990s, rising from an annual average of 164,000 tons during 1989–91 to an estimated 471,000 tons in 1999. Millet is the basic foodstuff (except in the Lake Chad area, where corn is the main cereal). Production of millet totaled 366,000 tons in 1999. Rice production was about 100,000 tons in 1999; corn production amounted to 173,000 tons that year. Other products, with 1999 production figures, include cassava, 275,000 tons; yams, 240,000 tons; and sweet potatoes, 65,000 tons. Sugarcane production on a French-managed irrigated estate of about 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) on the Shari River yielded 28,000 tons of raw sugar in 1999.