Arable land in 1998 consisted of 565,000 ha (1,396,000 acres) planted with
annual crops, and 251,000 ha (537,266 acres) with permanent crops. Irrigation
covered 36,000 ha (89,000 acres) in 1998, half of it in the Sonsonate and
Sensunapan region. In 2000, agriculture represented 11% of GDP and 30% of
Coffee, El Salvador's major crop (30% of total agricultural output), is grown
principally in the west and northwest at elevations of 460 to 1,520 m (1,500 to
5,000 ft). Primarily as a result of the civil war, coffee production declined in
the 1980s. In June 1993, the Ministry of Economy certified the first shipment of
organic coffee; the agrarian reform cooperative that produced the coffee had not
used chemicals or pesticides for over four years. Production in 1999 amounted to
144,000 tons (down from 156,000 tons in 1990). Exports of coffee in 2001
amounted 92,130 tons, valued at to $131.5 million. The coffee industry is a
major employer in El Salvador, generating about 82,000 jobs.
Sugar production fell between 1979 and 1981 but later recovered; cane
production in 1999 was 5.5 million tons, and the sugar industry contributed
$80.1 million to the country's foreign exchange earnings in 2001. Sugar is the
most important agricultural product after coffee, and is grown mostly by
independent producers. Investment has increased, as has the area under
cultivation (in contrast to the other two major export crops). The world price
has, however, been in decline for several years, and this decline has cut export
earnings; the government secured a $30.4 million loan from Venezuela to divert
some production to gasohol.
Traditional grains grown in El Salvador include white corn, sorghum, rice,
and edible beans. These crops make up the fundamental diet for most Salvadorans
and are produced on virtually all small farms. Production amounts in 1999
included corn, 684,000 tons; sorghum, 182,000 tons; rice, 60,000 tons; and
beans, 72,000 tons. An additional 455,800 tons of corn were imported in 2001 to
meet local demand.
Land that was originally planted for cotton is now being used for sugar cane,
pasture, and nontraditional crops. El Salvador has steadily been shifting
agricultural exports towards nontraditional items such as jalapeño peppers,
marigold flowers, okra, and pineapples. Traditional coffee areas are also being
absorbed by urbanization projects.