Nearly three-quarters of Ecuador is forested, but the superb hardwood resources of the Oriente suffer heavily from problems of transport, labor shortage and inaccessibility.
In the coastal ranges, shredded fiber from a tree native to Manabi province is used to manufacture the famous but misnamed Panama hats, particularly at Jipijapa and Monte Cristo Lightweight balsa wood, kapok, and castor oil seeds are among other forest products.
With Peru and Chile, Ecuador shares part of the very rich fishing ground of the southeast Pacific, concentrated in the nutrient-rich waters of the cool Peru current.
Ecuador is an Agricultural Economy
At present, the country's wealth is mainly agricultural. In the Andean intermontane basins, subsistence crops of potatoes are grown by the Indians at the highest limits of cultivation; their neat patchworks of small fields are visible in places to nearly 3,600 meters. Below, wheat, barley, maize, vegetables, fruits, sugar cane and cotton are grown and livestock tended on irrigated pastures, far down on the floors of the basins and deeply carved valleys.
The hot, wet coastal region is dominated by commercial banana production, but there is enormous variety in what is one of the richest agricultural areas in the humid tropics. Here, Negroes rather than Indians work the land. The Guayas lowland with its coastal extensions contains the most extensive estates and wealthiest landowners. Cacao, rice, sugar cane, manioc (yuca), cotton, pineapples, citrus fruits and livestock fattening augment banana production. Banana cultivation by intensive methods was developed in the 1930s and increased rapidly after World War II. Cacao production revived in the 1960s, and coffee is also very successful on the fan slopes and coastal hills.
An Agrarian Reform and Colonization Law was passed in 1964 in an attempt to redistribute land held by the small, rich, landowning class under the traditional system of massive estates (haciendas), but progress is slow.
Bananas, coffee and cacao account for over 80% of exports. Ecuador is the world's largest exporter of bananas, its "yellow gold", producing nearly 25% of the total supply.
The major markets are Japan and western North America(thus avoiding the expensive passage through the Panama Canal). Efforts are being made to reduce Ecuador's dangerous dependence on banana sales, which account for more than half the country's foreign exchange.
Other exports include rice, balsa wood, pyrethrum and pharmaceutical products, straw hats and fish products.