Agriculture in Niger - visible effects of climate warmingAgriculture in Niger is hampered by the strong intra- and inter-annual variability in rainfall (i.e. recurrent droughts). This variability largely explains the low and very fluctuating crop yields at both local and national levels Niger is one of the largest inland countries in West Africa and is historically a gateway between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. In this vast country of 1,267,000 square kilometers, of which two-thirds is desert and the climate is hot and dry, agriculture is mainly rain-fed. Less than 10% of the cropped area is under irrigation and there are limited areas around permanent (i.e. the Niger and Komadougou-Yobe rivers) and semi-permanent (large ponds) water systems and in valley or dallol areas (dallols Bosso and Maoury). It is one of the hottest countries in the world. Niger is mostly a vast plateau, with an average elevation of 500 m, with low local relief. In the Sahelian zone of the country, the climate becomes semiarid and the vegetation cover increases. The central part of Niger is dominated by an extensive pastoral zone — mostly steppes or short grass savannas with shrubs and sparsely scattered trees.
Thus crop and livestock production are the foundation of the national economy. Nigeria's agricultural sector contributes to a significant part of the country's GDP. Between April and June 2021, the agriculture contributed to 22.13 percent of the total nominal GDP. Agriculture is a key activity for Nigeria's economy after oil.
Most of the people derive their income from agriculture and stock raising and are highly vulnerable to periodic droughts and desertification. Moreover, land potential for agriculture is very unevenly distributed among Niger’s regions, with the southern regions providing nearly 98 percent of the arable land. The Niger River, for which the country is named, nourishes a ribbon of life as it flows about 550 km through western Niger. The river is the main source of freshwater and an important part of the economy through transportation and irrigation. Agricultural activities provide livelihood for many Nigerians, whereas the wealth generated by oil reach a restricted share of people. Agricultural and pastoral activities are carried out in four distinct major agro-ecological zones namely: (i) the semi-desert area in the north, which receives 0 to 50 mm of rainfall per year, (ii) the sub-Saharan pastoral zone in the longitudinal East-West center core of the country and receiving 50 to 200 mm of rainfall per year, (iii) the Sahelian agro-pastoral zone extending in the central to southern part of the country and receiving 200 to 500 mm of rainfall per year, and (iv) the Sudano-Sahelian zone covering the southern part of the country, receiving 600 to 800 mm of rain per year, and being most suitable for agriculture.
Most of Niger's agriculture is based on smallholder, subsistence farming systems and occupies over 12.5 Mha (with the area increasing annually by about 2%). Major cultivated crops are staples, with a clear predominance of pearl millet (46% of total acreage), sorghum (18%) and cowpea (32%). In addition to these main crops, there are other crops that are often grown under rainfed and/or irrigated conditions, such as cassava, sweet potato, rice, maize, wheat and fonio (finger millet). Other crops such as cotton, groundnuts, Bambara groundnut and nutsedge are also cultivated in some regions, such as Maradi, Zinder and Dosso. Intercropping (cereals-legumes or cereals-cereals) is widely practiced. In some areas with considerable soil heterogeneity across the field, a farmer may plant different crops (millet, sorghum, maize or legumes) in the same field. If the field has heterogeneous soil types, each crop is planted on the type of soil to which it is best adapted. One crop is usually cultivated per year (during the rainy season). Exceptions are areas around rivers and designated areas, where irrigation allows to cultivation of a second crop during the dry season (particularly, maize, rice, wheat, tubers and vegetable crops).
Sorghum and millet are by far the main staple foods consumed in Niger – per capita consumption is estimated between 100–200 kg per year, depending on the source. These grains constitute the main source of calories in the Nigerien diet. Self-sufficiency in sorghum and millet production depends on the progression and outcome of the main rainfed agricultural season, which extends from June to September. Approximately one in every two years results in surplus production, but deficit years are often much more severe. Furthermore, limited household and trader stocking are such that supplies are not easily retained during years of surplus production for local consumption during years of deficite.
Due to frequent droughts and floods that decimate crops and livestock, much of the Nigerien population struggles to maintain a living through subsistence farming. With so much of Niger's land unsuitable for crops, there is a particularly heavy dependence on livestock. The majority of the livestock; camels, cattle, sheep, and goats, is held by pastoral nomads, the Tuareg and the Fulbe, who range across the savannahs and into neighbouring countries. Niger relies on its livestock sector for income and food security, the main market being its neighbour Nigeria. Export of live cattle and meat represents nearly 12 percent of total exports (90 percent of which goes to Nigeria and the remaining to Cote d’Ivoire and other coastal countries). Many live animals are exported to Burkina Faso before continuing on to Cote d’Ivoire or other coastal countries, and are marketed as Burkinabe after that, although Niger’s reputation for quality meat is well-known throughout the Sahel.
Agricultural production can vary considerably from one year to the next, driven largely by variations in rainfall patterns. Recent gains in agricultural production were driven primarily by expansion of cultivated area. Production is largely carried out by smallholder farmers who implement traditional cropping techniques with very little if any use of improved inputs, animal traction, or mechanization. Hence, yield levels remain low. In some cases, official data even suggest some degree of retrogression for some crops.