Agriculture employs the vast majority of the work force and accounted for an estimated 35% of GDP in 2000. However, only an estimated 13% of the total land area is under annual or perennial crops. Government attempts to modernize the agricultural sector have met with some success, especially with cotton, whose export accounted for 36% of total exports in 2001. In 1999, about 85% of the 136,000 tons of cotton produced was exported. The resistance to improvement has been due mostly to the insufficient water supply and poor soil. Burkina Faso is not self-sufficient in food. Although total cereal production rose from 1,547,000 tons in 1990 to 2,662,000 tons in 1999, imports are needed to meet demand.
In the early 1980s, local laborers constructed a 1,144-km (711-mi) canal to bring water for irrigation from the Black Volta to the newly constructed Sourou Dam. This work was part of a plan to establish 40,000 hectares (100,000 acres) of irrigated land for smallholders and state projects. Production figures for principal subsistence crops in 1999 were sorghum, 1,203,000 tons; millet, 973,000 tons; corn, 378,000 tons; and rice, 89,000 tons. Commercial crops (with 1999 production figures) included cottonseed (185,000 tons), groundnuts (215,000 tons), cotton fiber (136,000 tons), and sesame (13,000 tons). Other important crops are cassava, cowpeas, sweet potatoes, and tobacco. Sugarcane has been introduced on a large scale and is becoming an important cash crop; 400,000 tons were produced in 1999.