Guyana has a rich and potentially very productive agriculture sector that can make major contributions to the recovery of the economy. There is scope for expansion, as a considerable amount of suitable land is currently not being cultivated. Guyana is mostly self-sufficient in food.
The main agricultural exports are sugar, rice, and shrimp. Sugar production has risen from 162,573 metric tons in 1991 to 280,066 metric tons in 1996. Approximately 255,655 metric tons of sugar were produced in 1998 despite the severe drought. Most of the sugar is exported to Europe under the Lomé Convention (an agreement by the European Union under which preferential trade terms are offered to certain developing countries). Most of the rice is produced by small-scale farmers, unlike sugar production, which is mainly a plantation activity. Other agricultural products are coffee, cocoa, cotton, coconut, copra, fruit, vegetables, and tobacco.
There is some cattle ranching, and pigs, sheep, and poultry are also raised. The fishing industry, which supplies both the domestic and export markets, is expanding. A big fisheries complex that is being constructed on the Demerara River will provide freezing and packing facilities. Forestry covers around 75 percent of the country. Large areas are, therefore, inaccessible, and agricultural development is hindered by the lack of electricity and economic transport.
Most agricultural output is derived from a thin belt of land close to the sea, most of which is below sea level. The sea wall system, which prevents inundation at high tide, is in danger of collapse due to lack of maintenance and wave damage during storms. Repairs to the sea wall are critical, and the immediate action program will cost about US$36 million, a large sum relative to the Guyanese economy.
The country's drainage and irrigation systems are in need of repair and currently are poorly managed. The divestment of state-owned land and the provision of adequate land titles to privately owned farms is a daunting but essential task if the market system is to raise agricultural productivity.
Agriculture provides the raw materials for Guyana's agro-based industries. The major crops include rice, sugar, coffee, cocoa, coconuts, edible oils, copra, fruit, vegetables, and tobacco. Livestock include cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, and chickens.