Agricultural work employs 77 percent of the labor force. Most Comorians find employment within a traditional subsistence economy producing maize (corn), cassava, rice, bananas, and vegetables. Protein comes from fish and poultry. Attracted by fertile soils and cheap labor, plantation companies acquired land in the islands in the 19th century, and by the beginning of the 20th century they owned most of the cultivable land. During the 20th century growing sugarcane gave way to the cultivation of scent-bearing flowers and spices, such as ylang-ylang, vanilla, and cloves, as well as copra (dried coconut meat that produces a valuable oil). Although the companies were forced to give up much of their land through successive land reforms, flowers and spices remain the basic commercial crops grown in the islands, and the only significant exports. Growing cash crops takes up a major part of the best land on the islands. As a result, Comoros is heavily dependent on imported food; food regularly constitutes 40 percent of all imports. There are no industries in the islands apart from some government power plants and artisan workshops that engage in small industries such as goldsmithing, boatbuilding, clothing manufacture, and scent processing. Political instability has resulted in little growth in tourism. Only 24,000 tourists visited Comoros in 1999.
France has remained by far the most important trading partner. The islands run a regular budget deficit, which has usually been covered by direct French aid. The country’s debt has been restructured by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the government has been forced to accept a structural adjustment package. The original structural adjustment package covered the period of 1991 to 1993, but it was renewed in 1993, and a further agreement with the IMF was reached in 1994. Since 1981 the currency has been the Comorian franc. The Comorian franc had a fixed exchange rate with the French franc of 50 to 1 until 1994, when the rate was changed to 75 Comorian francs to 1 French franc. In 2000, the Comorian franc exchanged at an average of 534 to U.S.$1.
Transport between the islands is mostly by air, and there is an international airport at Hahaia on Njazidja where jets can land. Road networks have been built between most of the main island settlements, but the mountainous terrain means that the majority of journeys are still made on foot. Public transport has traditionally been operated by private truck owners. In spite of improvements to port facilities, only small freighters can unload alongside the docks in Mutsamudu or Moroni, the two main ports. Much of the fishing is still carried out from traditional outrigger canoes (canoes with extra pieces of wood attached along the side).
Radio is the most common form of communication. In 1997 Comoros had 141 radio receivers for every 1,000 inhabitants. The state-owned Radio Comores transmits broadcasts from France and the Comorian government. Private stations linked to political parties occasionally broadcast on the radio as well. Television broadcasts exist, but there were only 2 television sets for every 1,000 Comorians in 1997. Comoros has 10 telephone mainlines per 1,000 people, with most of the telephones in government offices or on commercial premises. The government-owned newspaper Al Watany is published in French, as is L’Archipel, an independent newspaper.