Only 2.6% of Guinea's arable land area is cultivated. Agriculture accounts for 24% of GDP and engages 84% of the active population. The agricultural sector of the economy has stagnated since independence. The precipitate withdrawal of the French planters and removal of French tariff preference hurt Guinean agriculture, and drought conditions during the 1970s also hindered production. Since 1985, however, the free market policies of the Second Republic have encouraged growth in agricultural production, with slow but steady increases in output. Guinea is a net food importer, however, importing some 30% of its food needs.
Price controls have also had a dampening effect on output. In theory, until the reforms of the early 1980s, the state controlled the marketing of farm produce. However, even during the late 1970s, when all private trade in agricultural commodities was illegal, only a small amount of agricultural production actually passed through the state distribution system; some 500,000 private smallholders reportedly achieved yields twice as high as government collectives, despite having little or no access to government credit or research and extension facilities. During the 1970s and early 1980s, agricultural exports fell markedly, and food production decreased, necessitating rice imports of at least 70,000 tons a year. (In 1984, a drought year, 186,000 tons of cereal had to be imported.) However, some restrictions on marketing were removed in 1979 and 1981; more recently, prices were decontrolled and many state farms and plantations dissolved. These steps appeared to bring improvements.
The principal subsistence crops (with estimated 1999 production) are manioc, 812,000 tons; rice, 750,000 tons; sweet potatoes, 135,000 tons; yams, 89,000 tons; and corn, 89,000 tons. Cash crops are peanuts, palm kernels, bananas, pineapples, coffee, coconuts, sugarcane, and citrus fruits. In 1999, an estimated 429,000 tons of plantains, 220,000 tons of sugarcane, 215,000 tons of citrus fruits, 150,000 tons of bananas, 174,000 tons of peanuts, 52,000 tons of palm kernels, and 18,000 tons of coconuts were produced. That same year, coffee production was estimated at 21,000 tons, compared to 14,000 tons on average annually from 1979 to 1981. Prior to the reforms, a large portion of the coffee crop was smuggled out of the country. Guinea's trade deficit in agricultural products was $128.3 million in 2001.