Food & Daily life
Finding enough food
A pressing issue
Niger’s leaders have begun to tackle the ongoing question of food security – see Malnutrition. With its fragile environment and the increasing effects of climate change, the issue of how to feed the nation is being hotly debated.
The vast majority of Nigeriens still live in rural areas, relying on raising livestock or subsistence farming to produce enough food for their families.
But for many, it is a struggle to feed everyone, especially during the dry months. Once food stocks run low, it’s common for people to survive on just one meal a day.
At local markets, popular ingredients include onions, chili peppers and fruits such as figs and pomegranates. Kola nuts are also sold at markets; high in caffeine, these nuts are chewed to give an energy boost.
The staple diet of nomadic groups in Niger consists of milk and millet. The millet is pounded into flour by the women and girls and made into a paste or stiff porridge dough. In the south, families grow crops such as sorghum, maize, pulses, beans and vegetables – see Climate & Agriculture.
Meat is usually kept for special occasions. Grilled or baked, it is often heavily spiced. Arab traders and merchants brought spices such as saffron, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger to Niger.
Even when plenty of fresh produce is available at markets, it is often hard for the poorest families to afford a wide range of foods. Therefore many people suffer from an unbalanced diet and a lack of proper nutrition.
The population is growing around 3.5% each year (compared to the global average of 1.2%) rising from 2 to 15 million over the last five decades. This is putting a strain on already over-stretched food resources and population size is being more widely discussed.
Niger is a Muslim country and men sometimes have more than one wife (up to four). Each Nigerien woman has an average of seven children.
Officials at both government and local level are starting to raise the sensitive issue of family planning. Religious leaders are beginning to promote gaps between births, particularly because this helps to ensure mothers and children are healthy. But in a country where child mortality is high – see Poverty & Healthcare – many still see having lots of children as the best way to provide for themselves in the future.
Settled vs nomadic
The survival of cattle is hugely important, since the animals are the only saleable asset of nomadic peoples. Nomadic groups come together once a year for a special festival to celebrate the summer migration of their cattle – see People & Culture.
People generally live in settled communities in the south and west. But in the drier regions of the north and east, Nigeriens often lead a nomadic lifestyle, moving around to find fresh pastures for their herds of cattle, sheep and goats.
Sometimes, families find it works best to have a permanent base from which to operate – men travel around to graze the animals, while women and children remain settled in one place. Sometimes, whole families move from place to place, travelling north to south with the seasons to find fresh pasture.
Extended family groups transport all their tents and belongings with them, usually on donkeys or camels. The most prized possession of nomadic families is often the portable bed.