Landlocked Chad's economic development suffers from its geographic remoteness, drought, lack of infrastructure, and political turmoil. About 85% of the population depends on agriculture, including the herding of livestock. Of Africa's Francophone countries, Chad benefited least from the 50% devaluation of their currencies in January 1994. Financial aid from the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and other sources is directed largely at the improvement of agriculture, especially livestock production. Because of lack of financing, the development of oil fields near Doba, originally due to finish in 2000, was delayed until 2003. It was finally developed and is now operated by Exxon Mobil Corporation.
Economic statistics for Chad must be treated with caution. Significant trade with neighbouring countries, e.g. exports of camels and other livestock to neighbouring states, such as Libya, and imports of manufactured goods, are conducted "informally" and probably not fully recorded.
Primary markets for Chadian exports include neighboring Cameroon and Nigeria and France, Germany, and Portugal. Until crude oil production began in 2003, cotton played the dominant role, accounting for 40% of total exports in 1999 and remains important. Rehabilitation of Cotontchad, the major cotton company that suffered from a decline in world cotton prices, has been financed by France, the Netherlands, the European Economic Community (EC), and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). As of January 2002, the parastatal was undergoing privatization.
The other major export is livestock, herded to neighboring countries. Herdsmen in the Sudanic and Sahelian zones raise cattle, sheep, goats, and, among the non-Muslims, a few pigs. In the Saharan region, only camels and a few hardy goats can survive. Chad also sells smoked and dried fish to its neighbors and exports several million dollars worth of gum arabic to Europe and the U.S. each year. Other food crops include pearl millet, sorghum, peanuts, rice, sweet potatoes, manioc, cassava, and yams.
Beginning in late 2000, the Doba Basin oil project has stimulated major investments into Chad and it is expected to double government tax revenues by 2004. It is hoped that this project will serve as a catalyst for the entire economy by helping to reduce energy costs and attract additional trade and investment in other sectors. The question remains whether Chad will continue to consolidate its economic reforms and invest its oil revenues wisely in order to encourage a wider range of economic initiatives. Recent political controversy surrounding the contested 2001 presidential election and a continuing rebellion in northern Chad have continued to dampen Chad's economic prospects by exposing the weaknesses in Chad's political institutions.
The International Monetary Fund has projected high growth rates during the next 3 years, as the Doba basin oil project in southern Chad accelerates. The Exxon Mobil-led project will pump oil from reserves in Chad through an underground pipeline to coastal Cameroon, where it will be loaded onto tankers. Following a crucial World Bank financing decision in June 2000, the Doba project officially began its construction phase in October 2000. Between 2000 and 2003, an American-led consortium invested $3.7 billion into the project, approximately $2 billion of which was invested in Chad. By the year 2003-04 the consortium planned to produce between 150,000 to 250,000 barrels of oil a day from three fields in southern Chad. The project is expected to provide between $80 and $100 million in annual government revenues during the 25-year production phase. However, despite this economic growth, many environmentalists and African NGOs fear that the project will lead to grave environmental damage and the dominance of the Chadian economy by foreign powers.