Agriculture accounted for 30% of GDP and engaged 63% of the economically active population in 1996. Most of the farmers own no more than a few acres of land, and their holdings are badly fragmented. The land is fertile, but yields are low because of a lack of capital for input.
Rice dominates the production of about 60% of all cropped land in Bangladesh. Of the varieties grown, aman rice, which can be raised in inundated land and saline soil, occupies nearly 60% of the total land under rice. Aus rice, which cannot be grown in flooded fields, is raised mostly in higher areas of Bangladesh. Boro rice is grown in the winter, mainly in the swamps and marshy areas, but government-supported irrigation projects have encouraged its extension to other areas. To meet the challenge of the food shortages, the government of Bangladesh and international aid programs introduced a high-yielding variety of rice called IRRI with considerable success. Total rice production in 1999 was 29,857,000 tons. Before November 1992, the government artificially inflated rice prices by buying over one million tons per harvest. With subsidies gone, the subsequent fall in rice prices reflected an adjustment of the market after 20 years of prices propped up by government sales and purchases.
Jute is the main cash crop of Bangladesh, which produces about one-quarter of the total jute supply of the world. Grown in most parts of the country, jute is harvested from July to September. Its strong fibers are used to produce carpets, burlap bags, mats, upholstery, and other products. Jute is also used to manufacture textiles for clothes. The combined total export of jute and jute products represents about 13–15% of Bangladesh's annual export earnings. Although Bangladesh is the world leader in exports of jute, its prominence in the economy has slipped since the 1970s. The diminished role is due to mismanagement of the nationalized jute industry, labor strikes, and a drop in the worldwide use of jute for packing. In 1999, 813,000 tons of jute were produced (24% of world production).
Although tea is the second most important agricultural export, it accounted for only 1% of export earnings. Most tea plantations are in the Sylhet Region and the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Much of the tea is consumed domestically; total production in 1999 was 51,000 tons.
The agricultural economy, though disrupted by the 1971 war, largely recovered and grew by an average 2.7% annually during the 1980s and by an annual average of 2.9% during 1990–2000. Agricultural exports accounted for 1.1% of total exports in 2001. Frequent monsoons and cyclones keep the economy vulnerable. Crop output (in tons) in 1999 included sugarcane, 6,951,000; wheat, 1,908,000; potatoes, 1,702,000; sweet potatoes, 398,000; tobacco, 37,000; and barley, 6,000. Fruit production in 1999 included 625,000 tons of bananas, 187,000 tons of mangoes, and 149,000 tons of pineapples. Coconut productions totaled 89,000 tons that year; pulses, 668,000 tons.