The economy of Madagascar is overwhelmingly agricultural, largely of a subsistence type; the best farmland is in the east and northwest. The principal cash crops are coffee, vanilla, sugarcane, cloves, and cocoa. The main food crops are rice, cassava, beans, bananas, and peanuts. In addition, large numbers of poultry, cattle, goats, sheep, and hogs are raised. Fishing and forestry are also important.

Industries include meat, seafood, and sugar processing; brewing; tanning; automobile assembly; and the manufacture of textiles, glassware, and paper. Tourism is also important. The chief minerals are chromite, graphite, coal, bauxite, salt, quartz, zircon, ilmenite, nickel, cobalt, industrial beryl and garnets, and both offshore and onshore oil. There is an extensive but degraded road system (now being repaired) and only a limited rail network. Toamasina and Mahajanga are the chief ports.

Madagascar carries on a relatively small foreign trade, and the annual value of imports is usually higher than the value of exports. The main imports are capital and consumer goods, petroleum, and food products. The leading exports are coffee, vanilla, shellfish, sugar, textiles, chromite, and petroleum products. The principal trade partners are France, the United States, and China.