Agricultural production is a moderate contributor to the Algerian economy, accounting for 11-12 percent of GDP and 22 percent of total employment in 1997. The sector's contribution to the economy, however, has declined sharply since independence. Years of government restructuring, lack of investment, meager water resources, and dependence on rainwater for irrigation have contributed to this decline. The production of cereals as well as orchard and industrial crops has significantly dropped. As a result, Algeria today has become dependent on food imports, accounting for close to 75 percent of food needs.
Although Algeria is the second-largest country in Africa, the arable land of about 8.2 million hectares accounts for only 3.4 percent of the total land area. The vast Sahara desert, which spans much of the south central part of the country, is not available for agriculture. Between 1961 and 1987, all arable land was controlled by the state, which divided the land into state farms, known as domaines agricoles socialistes . State farms were dismantled in 1987 and the land was divided into smaller collective and individual farms. Despite these measures, about one-third of cultivable land in Algeria is still owned by the government, which leases the land to private investors and farmers. The remaining two-thirds of arable land (about 5 million hectares) is privately owned.
Algeria's main crops are cereals (mainly wheat and barley), citrus fruit, vegetables, and grapes. Fresh dates exports have risen sharply in the past decade and have become the second-largest export after hydrocarbons. Some 72,000 hectares are cultivated with palm trees, mainly in the Saharan oases. Algerian dates are mainly exported to France, Russia, Senegal, and Belgium. Algeria was once a major exporter of wine and associated products. Despite government efforts to revive the sector, production has fallen significantly since 1962, reaching 248,000 hectoliters (6,552,160 U.S. gallons) in 1996, down from 410,000 hectoliters (10,832,200 U.S. gallons) in 1992. Algeria is also a producer of olive oil, and production has generally averaged around 150,000 hecto-liters (3,963,000 U.S. gallons) annually.
The bulk of Algeria's crops are cultivated in the fertile but narrow plains around Bejaïa and Annaba in the east, in the Mitidja Plain south of Algiers, and beyond Oran from Sidi Bel Abbes to Tlemcen. The agricultural sector's dependence on rainwater for irrigation has often affected its production levels, especially during droughts. The cereal harvest, for example, was badly affected by drought conditions that plagued North Africa in 2000, producing only half of its annual yield. Hence, despite government efforts to extend funding and technical assistance to farmers and increase the productivity of the agricultural sector, Algeria imports the bulk of the food it consumes, especially cereals (mainly wheat).