Agriculture provides a living for about more than 50% of Ivoirians and accounts for about one-half of the country's sizable export earnings. Only 23% of the land is cultivated, but farming is intensive and efficiently organized. Most production is in the hands of smallholders, but there are numerous European-owned plantations, far more than in neighboring West African countries.
The main food crops (with their 1999 production in tons) are yams, 2,923,000; manioc, 1,623,000; rice, 1,162,000; plantains, 1,405,000; and corn, 571,000. Sweet potatoes, peanuts, and in the northern districts, millet, sorghum, and hungry rice (fonio) are also grown. Vegetable and melon production in 1999 amounted to 534,000 tons, consisting mostly of eggplant, fresh tomatoes, cabbage, okra, peppers, and shallots. The government sought during the 1970s to reduce or eliminate rice imports, but in 2001, about 1.9 million tons were imported. The economic decline during the 1980s coupled with high population growth has necessitated the modernization of agricultural production, with less dependence on coffee and cocoa. When cocoa and coffee prices were booming from the late 1960s until the early 1980s, the government profited by paying the farmers only a fraction of the money earned from the export of the crops.
However, they remain the principal cash crops and together provide about 45% of the country's export earnings. Côte d'Ivoire is Africa's leading producer of coffee, which is grown in the southern and central parts of the country, almost entirely on smallholdings. Coffee production reached a peak of 367,000 tons in 1981 and then declined because of drought and bush fires; in 1999 the total was back to 365,000 tons. Cocoa production has increased markedly since the early 1970s; it is now the nation's leading cash crop, and Côte d'Ivoire is the world's leading producer, accounting for 40% of world production in 1999. Output rose from 379,000 tons in 1980 to 1,153,000 tons in 1999, in part because of the use of high-yield plants and improvement in planting methods and upkeep.
Banana production (241,000 tons in 1999) fluctuates from year to year because of climatic conditions; exports in 2001 were 226,700 tons. Production of pineapples in that year was 226,000 tons; palm oil, 242,000 tons; and palm kernels, 35,000 tons. Rubber plantations yielded 119,000 tons, and cotton production reached 270,000 tons of seed cotton, and 130,000 tons of cotton fiber. Coconut production was 193,000 tons in 1999; copra production, 28,000 tons.
Six sugar complexes were established in the 1970s and early 1980s. These met domestic demand and provided an export surplus of over 60,000 tons of raw sugar in 1982, but the cost of production far exceeded the world market price, and two complexes were converted to rice plantations. Production of sugarcane was about 1,155,000 tons in 1999. Raw sugar production in 1999 was 115,000 tons, not enough to meet domestic consumption of over 175,000 tons.