Subsistence agriculture shapes Eritrea's economy and employs about 80 percent of its population, but its contribution to the economy is small. Agriculture's share of the GDP was only 9 percent in 1998 (equal to $261 million), while its contribution to exports was only $8 million. Major exports are livestock, sorghum, and food products exported to Ethiopia (before the war), Sudan, Yemen, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. In the absence of statistics, one can assume with some certainty that the 1998-2000 war and drought have lowered the contribution of agriculture to Eritrea's economy. The main agricultural products (sorghum, lentils, vegetables, corn, cotton, tobacco, coffee, sisal, and livestock) are insufficient to meet domestic needs, and these must be satisfied through foreign aid and large imports of foodstuffs ($63 million in 1998). The sharp fall in production during the crisis period between 1998 and 2000 led to price increases in food. The production of sorghum fell from 120,000 tons in 1994 to 62,000 tons in 1998. Eritrea can only become self-sufficient in food production if it is able to address its major handicaps: lack of money, poor irrigation, extensive soil erosion, and outdated technology.
The Red Sea coastline of Eritrea is rich in lobster, shrimp, and crab and offers the potential for a valuable export-oriented fishing industry. However, the lack of adequate investment, modern fishing boats, and technology have prevented any development, and fishing represents a negligible economic activity with a low annual catch (5,000 tons in 1999). Fishery projects are focused on privatization and the creation of storage and processing facilities funded by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Japan.