Traditionally, seaborne trade played an important role in the Islands' economy. Today, agriculture is the principal economic activity with crops grown both for domestic consumption and export. The major food crops are cassava, coconut, bananas, rice, sweet potatoes, pulses, and corn. Vanilla, ylang-ylang, cloves, and copra have been the major export crops.
The Comoros were the world's leading producer of the essence of ylang-ylang, an oil widely used in the perfume industry. The Islands were also the world's second-largest producer of vanilla. The market demands for these products have decreased significantly in the past decade, however. In 1996, for example, there was a 60% drop in the value of vanilla and exports declined by 42.7% from the previous year. During the same year, the volume of ylang-ylang essence declined by 15.8% and the value of the exports dropped by 24.6%.
Some animal husbandry is undertaken by individual farmers and a small scale fishing industry exists. Coelecanth specimens provided some income for fishermen and the government. This fish was thought by western scientists to have been extinct for 70 million years but has been caught by local fishermen for years. At one time it was sold to the local government and resold to museums and research centers all over the world.
There is a small tourist industry on the Islands which had been recently promoted by South African interests. For information about this industry and others in the Comorian Union, contact the Chamber of Commerce in Moroni (Tel. +269 773 0958).
France has been the major trading partner of the Comoros. The Islands have a relatively large negative trade balance and the government has been for many years dependent upon external aid. A number of countries in the past have provided this aid with France being the dominant donor.
The currency of the country is the Comorian franc. Its value is tied to the Euro at 492 Comorian francs to 1 Euro. There are banks on the islands of Ngazidja, Nzwani, and Maore but no bank on Mwali. The banks are open Monday through Friday mornings.