United Brands, United Fruit, Fyffes, banana production, major export
Agriculture in 2000 accounted for 23 percent of the GDP, and food products represented 58 percent of Guatemala’s exports in 1999. Coffee has been Guatemala’s most important export for more than a century, and despite considerable diversification, in 2001 the country produced 250,000 metric tons. Sugar has been rising in importance, and Guatemala harvested 17.4 million metric tons of sugarcane in 2001. Bananas remain important and are grown in the tropical lowlands, mainly by foreign corporations—including Chiquita (formerly United Fruit and United Brands), Fyffes, Dole, and Del Monte. But as world demand for bananas has declined, as soil has been depleted, and as other crops have been developed, banana production has become a much smaller percentage of total exports than formerly.
Since the 1970s Guatemala has been the leading exporter of cardamom, a spice popular in Arab countries. Falling prices for this crop, however, have diminished its importance, and in 1995 it accounted for only 2 percent of Guatemalan exports. In 2001 fresh fruits (1.2 million metric tons), oilseeds (109,594 metric tons), and vegetables (519,500 metric tons) were significant crops. Guatemala no longer exports cotton, which until recently was a major export. Cotton output dropped dramatically from 165,698 metric tons in 1985 to a mere 2,000 metric tons in 2001, because of both production problems and wide competition from other regions and synthetic fibers.
Export agriculture has absorbed so much of Guatemala’s limited arable land that food production has suffered. Corn remains the principal crop for domestic consumption, but significant amounts of rice, beans, sorghum, potatoes, soybeans, and other fruits and vegetables, as well as livestock, are also raised.
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