Cultivation utilizes about 5.7% of Paraguay's total land area. The total area under cultivation rose from 245,636 hectares (606,976 acres) in 1940–41 to an estimated 2,285,000 hectares (5,646,000 acres) in 1998. Primary agriculture accounts for 20% of GDP and about 35% of employment. The principal areas of cultivation are in the clearings around Asunción and Encarnación. Arable land outside these regions is sparsely settled, and inhabitants there rely principally on livestock and forestry for a living.
The two most widely cultivated crops are manioc (cassava) and corn, which, with meat, are the staples of the Paraguayan diet. Cotton, tobacco, and sugarcane are among the leading cash and export crops. A national wheat program increased production from 7,000 tons in 1965 to 23,000 tons in 1973, 55,000 tons in 1981, and 500,000 tons in 1999, eliminating the need for wheat imports. Enough beans, lentils, sweet potatoes, peanuts, coffee, and fruits are grown for home use, and slightly more than enough rice. Crops yielding edible oils are widely grown, and yerba maté is cultivated on plantations. Production of principal crops for 1999 (in tons) included sugar cane, 2,832,000; manioc, 3,500,000; soybeans, 3,304,000; corn, 984,000; cotton, 74,000; and tobacco, 14,000. In 2001, Paraguay exported $772 million in agricultural products, 65% of total exports.