Agriculture, the mainstay of the economy, employs about 35% of the working population and contributes 21% to GDP. About 75% of those working in agriculture are engaged in the production of tea, rubber, and coconuts, the three crops that comprise nearly 60% of Sri Lanka's agricultural land. Tea production in 1999 was 280,000 tons; plantings were 190,000 hectares (469,000 acres). Rubber production was 96,000 tons, and coconut production totaled 1,850,000 tons.
Rice is the major staple crop, produced over much of the country. The major growing districts are Kurungala in the northwestern province, Ampara in the eastern province, Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura in the north central province, and the Mahaweli area; together these areas account for 55% of production. The maha rice season crop (63% of production) is planted in the fall and harvested in the spring, while the yala rice crop (37%) is planted in the summer and harvested in the fall. Production of rice reached 2.8 million tons in 2000. Lesser crops include sugar, pepper, cinnamon, chilies, sesame, cardamom, tobacco, cashew nuts, betel leaves, coffee, and cocoa.
Under the Land Reform Law of 1972, all property holdings exceeding 20 hectares (50 acres), except for property controlled by publicly owned companies, were vested in the Land Reform Commission for redistribution; a total of 226,373 hectares (559,377 acres) were redistributed, including one-fifth of the land under tea. Under the Land Reform Amendment Bill of 11 October 1975, all publicly owned estates (including the major British-owned tea and rubber plantations) were nationalized. The Janatha Estate Development Boards and the Sri Lanka Plantation Corporations account for 60% of total tea production and 30% of the total area under rubber cultivation.