Agriculture is the most important sector to most Togolese. It employs two-thirds of the active population, who predominantly work on small land holdings. Food crops (mainly cassava, yams, maize, millet, and sorghum) account for two-thirds of production, and are mostly used domestically. Togo's cash crops are mainly cocoa, coffee, cotton, and to a lesser extent, palm oil. These cash crops provide a valuable return for small farmers, and they provide 40 percent of exports. Some foodstuffs need to be imported. The main imported foodstuff is rice, although production has increased 6-fold since the mid-1980s. Production increased by 9.1 percent in 1999 due to good weather, although depressed world prices for exports affected Togo (especially in cotton).
Agricultural exports are dominated by cotton. The cotton production sector employs 230,000 people, predominantly small farmers. Cultivation has expanded rapidly since the mid-1980s. Output has quadrupled from the 1985-1986 season to 200,000 metric tons in 1998, stabilizing at 190,000 metric tons in the 1999-2000 season. About 163,420 hectares were under cotton cultivation during the 1999-2000 season. Soil degradation is likely to become a problem.
Most farmers are under contract to the state-owned marketing board, Sotoco. In 1995 Sotoco lost its monopoly on processing and the external marketing of cotton, and a private company, Sicot, was given export and processing rights. Sotoco still has a dominant purchasing position and is the sole provider of fertilizers and pesticides. Several new ginning plants opened in the late 1990s, and they should be running at full capacity by early 2001.
Cocoa and coffee production appear less important than cotton, but unrecorded cross-border trade distorts the figures. Togo's production of these 2 commodities is small compared to its neighbors, producing 13,000 metric tons of coffee and 9,000 metric tons of cocoa in 1998. The state-owned OPAT was in charge of marketing, processing, and exporting until 1996, when private companies were introduced.