Tajikistan is primarily an agricultural country, with as much as 70 percent of its population living in rural areas and 65 percent of the workforce being employed in the agricultural sector, especially the cultivation and production of cotton. The Soviet Union had designated much of Central Asia's agriculture, including Tajkistan's, as a cotton monoculture (production of one type of crop). Before independence, production of raw cotton averaged more than 800,000 metric tons per year. In 1999, by contrast, raw cotton production was only 316,000 metric tons. Cotton still accounts for two-thirds of total agricultural output, however. Export of cotton fiber in 1999 accounted for a relatively low figure of US$92 million or 13 percent of GDP. The main reasons for a decline of cotton production are the substantial reduction in state subsidies to farms, the consequent inability of farms to purchase sufficient inputs such as fertilizers and other agronomic goods, and the deterioration of the irrigation system and agricultural machinery.
The primary food crops are wheat, barley, maize, potatoes, and rice. There are more than 800,000 hectares (2 million acres) of arable land in Tajikistan, which is equivalent to merely 6 percent of the country's land mass. The far majority of the arable land is located in the flood plains of the Kofarnihon, Vakhsh, Yakhsu, and Ghizilsu Rivers, all of which flow toward the Amudarya and Syrdarya rivers. In addition to the cropland, there are an estimated 3.5 million hectares (13,500 square miles) of permanent pastures. With its fast-growing population, Tajikistan has a comparatively and increasingly low per capita cropland. Wise use of agricultural lands, therefore, is an extremely important issue for Tajikistan. Since 1995, with the encouragement of semi-private farming and the distribution of more than 50,000 hectares (125,000 acres) of land to mostly rural households, there has been a significant increase in the production of grain, however, inclement weather since 1999 has severely affected overall agricultural production, including grain and cotton. The effects of floods have been exacerbated by the lack of proper land and water management by local governments, as in not maintaining riverbeds and allowing for the over-grazing of hills and valleys. The combined natural and human effects, have, among other things, led to a lowering of grain harvests, which had been an abundant 550,000 metric tons in 1997. This total fell by 57 percent to a low of 236,000 metric tons in 2000.