Agriculture is the most important sector in the economy, providing well over half of the GDP. Food self-sufficiency has been the target of several governments, with the main products being rice, cassava, beans, potatoes, yams, sugar-cane, and tropical fruits. Rice production covers 30 percent of the arable land. The livestock population has recovered after the war, with the number of cattle reaching 550,000 in 2001, which is high in relation to a population of just over 1 million people. The changes in the agriculture sector have sparked much debate about land tenure issues as a result of the conflict between traditional village-based farms ( Tabancas ) and the encroaching large-scale commercial sector ( Pontas ). Even though the first development plan calling for self-sufficiency in food supplies was created in 1983, by the late 1990s foodstuffs remained the largest portion of imports.
The legacy of the Portuguese colonial period lives on in Guinea-Bissau because cash crops grown on vast plantations remain the largest export products for the country. Cashew nuts are the most important cash crop (cashew nut output has quadrupled since 1988). Despite suffering setbacks during the civil war, cashew nut production is expected to reach 60,000 metric tons in 2001 from 38,000 metric tons in 1997.
Forestry resources are abundant but under-used. The 2.35 million hectares of forest could produce 100,000 metric tons per year without disturbing the ecology. Under privatization the former parastatal , Socotram, has become 4 separate private companies, with a view to increasing competition and raising timber production.
The coastline is rich in fish and shellfish, and joint fishing ventures have been set up with Russian, Algerian, and Portuguese companies (with licensing for this fishing accounting for 40 percent of government revenue [1992-96]). However, over-fishing and lax controls have led to a drop in fishing potential and the introduction of a European Union-backed modernization program, with a quota system and more maritime patrols. In 1996, Guinea-Bissau also signed agreements to cross-monitor fishing zones with 6 other West African nations. Estimated catches of 0.25 to 0.3 million metric tons are possible if illegal fishing can be eliminated.