Agriculture was the chief economic activity in Guyana. Only the coastal plain, comprising about 5 percent of the country's land area, was suitable for cultivation of crops. Much of this fertile area lay more than one meter below the high-tide level of the sea and had to be protected by a system of dikes and dams, making agricultural expansion expensive and difficult. In the 1980s, there were reports that the 200-year-old system of dikes in Guyana was in a serious state of disrepair. Guyana's remaining land area is divided into a white sand belt, which is forested, and interior highlands consisting of mountains, plateaus, and savanna.
In the 1980s, sugar and rice were the primary agricultural products, as they had been since the nineteenth century. Sugar was produced primarily for export whereas most rice was consumed domestically. Other crops included bananas, coconuts, coffee, cocoa, and citrus fruits. Small amounts of vegetables and tobacco were also produced. During the late 1980s, some farmers succeeded in diversifying into specialty products such as heart-of-palm and asparagus for export to Europe.
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