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Economy, agriculture and food security
Eritrea’s economy in general and the agricultural sector in particular were seriously affected by the combination of war, recurrent droughts and degraded lands. Agriculture, which is based on smallholder farming, accounted for 15 percent of GDP in 2003. Up to 80 percent of the population depends on farming. Currently the food supply is highly dependent on imports and food aid. The contribution of agriculture to the trade balance is negative. The contribution of the sector to exports and imports was 7 percent and 11 percent respectively in 2001. Food imports as a result of food shortages amounted to 20 percent of total imports between 2001 and 2002. The main agricultural product imported in 2001 was wheat (46 percent of all imports) and the main exports were sesame seeds and flour (89 percent of all exports).
The main factors constraining crop production are low total rainfall and its distribution, insufficient availability of ploughing animals, problems of access to quality seeds, rapid degradation of land and water resources owing to soil and water erosion, inefficient agricultural extension services, and poor or inadequate rural infrastructures.
The farming system comprises: (i) rainfed crop systems using traditional methods with very low input levels, mainly in the central and southern highlands; (ii) irrigated agriculture systems using mainly spate irrigation in the western and eastern lowlands; (iii) agro-pastoralist and nomadic pastoralist systems, mainly in the lowlands and escarpment zone (agro-pastoralists derive their livelihoods from cattle, sheep and goats, while nomadic pastoralists often keep camels as well).