Libya has sought to expand its agriculture since the early 1970s. Its success in this regard has been limited despite heavy investments that equaled 30 percent of government expenditures in the 1970s. For example, production of cereals in 1998 (207,000 metric tons) met only 15 percent of the country's needs. Therefore, Libya has remained dependent on large agricultural imports, estimated at about 75 percent of its annual needs.
Libyan agriculture is a small contributor to the work-force (about 17 percent), and to GDP (about 5.6 percent in 1997). Major barriers to its growth are limited arable land (1.7 percent of Libya's area) and water resources, over-use of arable land and fertilizers, and a shortage of labor. Apart from a limited production of barley and wheat, major agricultural products are mostly fruits and vegetables such as dates, almonds, grapes, citrus fruits, watermelon, olives, and tomatoes, which constitute about 80 percent of annual agricultural production. Agricultural activities take place mainly along the coastline. Inland farming is very limited because of water shortages. Rapid urbanization has resulted in a severe shortage of agricultural workers, forcing Libya to rely on foreign farm laborers.
Libya's animal husbandry has suffered from the sanctions, limiting imports of animal feed on which it depends heavily. For example, the production of beef and veal dropped from 22,100 metric tons in 1994 to 2,100 metric tons in 1998.
The low annual catch (34,500 metric tons in 1997) demonstrates the underdeveloped nature of Libya's fisheries, despite the richness of its waters in exportable fish (e.g., tuna and sardines). Low investments in fishing boats, ports, and processing facilities are major obstacles to its growth. The country has 1 major fishing port (Zlitan), 1 tuna plant, and 2 sardine factories with small processing capacities (1,000 metric tons per year each). Libya is planning to build 24 fishing ports in addition to the one under construction at Marsa Zuaga.