Agriculture employs four-fifths of the CAR's labor force and accounts for more than half of the total GDP (53 percent in 1999). The country's largest agricultural export, timber, is harvested by several foreign companies. Farmers also produce cotton, coffee, and tobacco for export. Subsistence farmers grow cassava, millet, corn, and bananas for their own consumption and for sale on domestic markets. Individual small-scale farmers using traditional agricultural methods produce these crops. Small amounts of palm oil and sugar are produced for the domestic market.
Timber is acquired in the southwestern regions bordering on Cameroon and the Congos and is logged and exported by several foreign firms. Production has risen from 200,000 to 300,000 cubic meters in the early 1990s to nearly 500,000 cubic meters. Forests covered nearly half of the country in the late 1990s, but this area has been reduced since timber companies do not replace the trees they have cut down.
Coffee and cotton are the most important agricultural exports after timber. Introduced by the country's French colonizers, cotton is grown in the northern provinces bordering on Chad. The CAR usually produces about 50,000 tons of raw cotton, which is purchased and ginned by the state cotton company, SOCOCA. Cotton production suffered when prices fell during the 1980s, but it partially rebounded during the 1990s. Coffee farmers in central and southern regions produce 10,000 to 15,000 tons annually.
Cassava (manioc) is by far the biggest subsistence crop in the CAR. Farmers produce about 500,000 tons of cassava annually, greater than the combined output of millet, sorghum, rice, and corn. Peanuts, yams, and sesame are also cultivated for the domestic market. In addition, almost all farm families raise livestock, partly for family consumption and to provide extra income. An assortment of cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, and poultry are owned by most rural households across the country. Individual families using traditional methods produce these commodities. Some farmers harness cattle to plow their fields and transport their crops, but most plow, hoe, and harvest by hand. The entire family, regardless of age, helps in the long, hard work of farming.