Offshore oil deposits exploited since the early 1970s have made Cameroon one of the most prosperous nations in tropical Africa. Oil refining and the production of crude oil products lead the nation's industries. Before the advent of the petroleum business, agriculture was the country's economic mainstay, and it still contributes about 45% of the country's gross domestic product and employs about 70% of the people. The north, where cattle raising is the chief occupation, is the least economically developed part of Cameroon, whose regional disparities pose a major problem for the government.
Cameroon is one of the world's leading cocoa producers; coffee, rubber, bananas, palm products, and tobacco, all grown mainly on plantations, are also commercially important. The principal subsistence crops are bananas, cassava, yams, plantains, peanuts, millet, and sorghum.In spite of this diverse agricultural production, only a small percentage of the country's land is cultivated, but food production in Cameroon meets domestic demand despite the occurrence of periodic droughts.
Fishing and forestry follow oil and agriculture as leading occupations. Cameroon's mineral resources include bauxite and iron ore. The Edéa Dam on the Sanaga River provides the bulk of the country's electricity and powers a large aluminum smelter; finished aluminum is exported. Food processing, sawmilling, and the manufacture of light consumer goods and textiles are important industries.
Cameroon's exports include crude oil and petroleum products, lumber, cocoa beans, aluminum, coffee, and cotton. France, Spain, Italy, and Nigeria are the major trading partners. The country is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.