The most widespread agricultural activity of the islands is gardening for domestic consumption. Garden crops include corn, cassava, sweet potatoes, and bananas. Only about 11.1% of the land area is suitable for crop production. Frequent droughts often exacerbate an ongoing water shortage. Agriculture employed about 24% of the active population and contributed 12% to GDP in 2000. Estimated 1999 production figures were sugarcane, 13,000 tons; corn, 10,000 tons; bananas, 6,000 tons; coconuts, 5,000 tons; mangoes, 5,000 tons; cassava, 3,000 tons; and potatoes, 2,000 tons. Only the islands of São Tiago, São Vicente, São Nicolau, and Santo Antão have conditions suitable for raising cash crops. Bananas, the only agricultural export, are grown on irrigated land. Sugarcane, another cash crop, is used on the islands to produce rum.
Agriculture has been the focus of development aid programs since the 1960s, but progress has been frustrated by drought, locusts, overgrazing, and archaic cultivation methods. Approximately 85–90% of food needs are met by imports; agricultural imports had a value of $82.9 million in 2001.
The PAIGC nationalized a few large-scale irrigated agricultural operations and began a program of land reform and cooperative agriculture; sharecropping was abolished. During 1976–80, 7,200 rainwater dikes were built. Torrential rains in 1984 destroyed much of this work, but by 1986, 17,000 dikes and 25,000 stone retaining walls had been completed. There has been little land redistribution, despite a 1982 law distributing farms over five hectares (12.5 acres)—1 hectare (2.5 acres) if irrigated— among the tenants if the land is not directly farmed by the owners.