Agriculture (including forestry and fishing) is a very significant sector of Côte d'Ivoire's economy. It contributed an estimated 32 percent of the GDP and employed about 51 percent of the labor force in 1998. However, the disparity between share of the GDP and share of the labor force indicates that agriculture generates much lower incomes than the other 2 major sectors, industry and services. Exports of cocoa and related products contributed an estimated 37 percent of total export earnings in 1998. Export taxes on cocoa and coffee contributed more than 10 percent of government revenue in each year since 1996.
Production of cocoa beans doubled between 1970 and 1979, making Côte d'Ivoire the largest exporter in the world. The country has been the world's largest cocoa producer since 1977-78, when its level of production overtook that of Ghana. Overall output continued to rise, with some fluctuations, reaching a record 1.1 million metric tons in 1995-96 and an estimated 1 million metric tons in 1996-97, up from an annual average of 750,000 metric tons over the 1990-94 period. This increase, however, was attributed to the government incentives program of the 1980s as well as the resultant switching of resources from coffee production. Until 1989, both coffee and cocoa attracted virtually the same producer prices, although coffee was more heavily taxed and is more difficult to grow.
The total land area is distributed among different uses as follows: arable land 8 percent, permanent crops 4 percent, permanent pastures 41 percent, forests and woodland 22 percent, and others 25 percent. In 1993 only 680 square kilometers (262 square miles) of land was under irrigation. Agricultural production increased by an average of 2.4 percent annually between 1990-98. There were 2.44 million hectares of arable land in 1994, 1.27 million hectares of permanent cropland, and 13 million hectares of meadow and pasture. The other major cash crops include cotton, rubber, bananas, and pineapples. The principal subsistence crops are maize, yams, cassava, plantains, and, increasingly, rice, as demand continues to outstrip local production of rice. In 1996, it was estimated that there were 1.28 million cattle, 1.31 million sheep, 1.0 million goats, 290,000 pigs, and 27 million chickens.
With about two-thirds of the total export earnings provided by the sale of coffee and cocoa, which are both highly vulnerable to fluctuations in international prices, the government has sought to diversify agricultural production. Since the 1960s, Côte d'Ivoire has become a major producer of palm oil, and local processing of palm products has developed. Cotton production has done particularly well in recent decades, enabling Côte d'Ivoire to compete—alongside Sudan, Mali, and Benin—for the position of Africa's second largest producer of cotton after Egypt. Most of the cotton is processed locally in 8 ginning complexes both for export (some 80 percent of total production) and the local textile industry.
The rubber industry has also shown growth since the mid-1980s with output increasing by more than 50 percent between 1990 and 1994 in response to government plans for Côte d'Ivoire to become Africa's leading rubber producer. Côte d'Ivoire is also a significant producer of pineapples and bananas with exports mostly directed to European markets.
In recent years, the government has stressed the need to increase output of basic food crops such as rice in which Côte d'Ivoire is not self-sufficient. A deficiency in the sugar supply and the need to save foreign exchange on sugar imports led the government to initiate a sugar program in the 1970s. By the 1980s, the 2 schemes could supply most of internal demand, then estimated at 80,000 metric tons a year, but production costs were twice the world price, leading to cancellation of further sugar projects.
Livestock is not a significant sector, comprising mostly small herds, which can supply only about one-third of the nation's demand for livestock products. On the other hand, fishing is a significant activity, and Abidjan is the largest tuna-fishing port in Africa with an annual catch of more then 90,000 metric tons. However, most of this catch is by foreign vessels, and the only benefits to Côte d'Ivoire are the license fees. Ivorian participation in this sector is still low, with the domestic fishing fleet numbering only 38 vessels and most traditional fishing being undertaken by non-Ivorians. Domestic production meets only about 40 percent of local demand.
Forestry has always been a significant source of export revenue, from both logs and sawn timber. Boosted by enhanced price competitiveness since 1994, timber has displaced both coffee and petroleum products as the country's second highest earner of foreign exchange earnings, after cocoa. Most of the production is carried out by large integrated foreign-owned firms. The area of exploitable timber has fallen to only about 1 million hectares in 1987 compared with some 15.6 million hectares in 1960 because of logging and the encroachment of agriculture into forest areas. Progress in reforestation has been disappointing, and the government is committed to a ban on exports of timber once the country's foreign payments position has improved.
The main current environmental issue is deforestation. Some 94 percent of the country's forests—once the largest in West Africa—have been cleared by the timber industry since independence. Water pollution from sewage, industrial plants, and agricultural effluents is also causing concern.