During the 1980s and early 1990s, Mozambique's agricultural sector was barely functional due to a combination of manmade and natural causes. The prolonged drought of 1981 to 1984 was followed by the floods and cyclone of 1984. By 1986, a famine emerged from renewed drought and civil war. Drought continued into 1987, followed by floods and locusts in 1988. Normal rainfall came in 1990, only to be followed by renewed drought in 1991 and 1992. In some regions food production declined by 80%, and in 1992 the food deficit reached a record 1.3 million tons. Normal rains returned in 1993, but the ongoing food relief requirement, exclusive of war refugees, was put at one million tons in 1994. Good rains and harvests helped the Mozambican economy grow by 5% in 1995 and 1996. By 1999, agricultural production was 5.5% higher than during 1989–91.
Only about 4% of Mozambique is under cultivation at any one time, and more than two-thirds of the land is not exploited in any way. Nevertheless, agricultural pursuits support almost 80% of the population and provided about 24% of the GDP in 2001. Since independence, there has been a serious decline in agricultural production, attributed to the collapse of rural transport and marketing systems when Portuguese farmers and traders left the country. In the 1980s, state farms received the bulk of agricultural investment, but the yields were poor.
Mozambique's major cash crops are cashew nuts, cotton, copra, sugar, tea, and cassava, and its major food crops are corn and sorghum. Crop production in 1999 included cassava, 5,650,000 tons; sugarcane 369,000 tons; coconuts, 435,000 tons; sorghum, 327,000 tons; peanuts, 145,000 tons; corn, 1,185,000 tons; bananas, 88,000 tons; oranges, 19,000 tons; grapefruits, 19,000 tons; cashew nuts, 53,000 tons; rice, 200,000 tons; copra, 73,000 tons; cotton fiber, 30,000 tons; sunflowers, 16,000 tons; and cottonseed, 60,000 tons. Mozambique is a net importer of food; in 2001, the trade deficit in agricultural products was $185.2 million.