Niger’s economic development has long been hampered by the country’s isolated location, its climate, with desertification and recurring drought disasters, political conflicts, the lack of skilled labor and the unilateral dependence on a commodity, uranium. During most of the 1990s, the country has had fairly moderate economic growth.
Niger has a large unofficial sector with extensive smuggling to Nigeria in particular. The country is highly dependent on aid, and the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have imposed structural adjustments on the country. During the 00s, the large external debt was reduced on two occasions through amortization.
Traditionally, house-based agriculture and nomadic or semi-nomadic livestock farming dominate agriculture. Agriculture is concentrated in the valley of the Niger River and in the southern parts of the country, where the precipitation is reasonably reliable. The most important crops are millet, sorghum, cassava, beans, rice, onions, legumes and peanuts. In addition to dry years, Niger is self-sufficient in food, but at the expense of sales products such as cotton and peanuts, whose production has fallen sharply. Distribution problems sometimes lead to local food shortages.
Livestock breeding is mainly done in the central and northern Sahel areas and is second and foremost the country’s most important source of export revenue. The recurring drought has resulted in very varied yields. Comprehensive programs for irrigation, forestry and soil conservation have been initiated with the help of foreign aid agencies.
Minerals and energy
Niger is relatively rich in uranium, tin, iron, phosphate, plaster, salt, coal, gold and oil. So far, however, only the uranium has been considered worth breaking on a larger scale. However, since 2004, gold has also been broken. Long distances and insufficient infrastructure make the mining sector more difficult. Niger has some of the world’s largest uranium deposits, but they are inaccessible and only a few of the known reserves are utilized. The uranium is mainly mined by French companies where the Nigerian state is part owner. Half of Niger’s electricity needs are covered by domestic coal production, while the rest is imported. Firewood is still by far the most common fuel.
The industry is insignificant and is dominated by the processing of agricultural products and import substitution. Industry growth is hampered by a lack of energy and educated labor, a limited domestic market and high transport costs. Smuggling of consumer goods from Nigeria also limits Niger’s opportunities for industrial expansion.
Trade statistics are flawed and fluctuations in foreign trade are considerable, but it has gone with an almost permanent deficit. Since 1973, uranium has been the most important export commodity. Gold, animals, hides and vegetables are also exported. Imports mainly consist of cereals, industrial goods, oil, machinery and means of transport. The most important trading partners are France, Malaysia and Thailand. Declining export income has led to increased debt burden. Niger is heavily dependent on foreign (mainly French) aid, but after the 1996 military coup, France and other donors froze all aid.
- COUNTRYAAH: Find major trading partners of Niger, including major exports and major imports with latest trade value and market share as well as growth rate.
Tourism and gastronomy
The tourism industry in Niger has great potential, but the unrest in the region and the frequent kidnappings of tourists mean that tourists are discouraged from visiting the country. In 2011, over 80,000 people visited Niger.
The traveler who travels through central Sahara despite the unrest in the region is likely to pass through Niger. The eastern route leads through the mining town of Arlit and Agadez to Zinder. Agadez is listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List and known for its Tuareg jewelery and a five-hundred-year-old mosque with a distinctive minaret. Also famous is the nearby mountain area. In Zinder there is the local sultan’s palace to view.
- According to AllCityPopulation, the capital city of Niger is Niamey with a population of 978,000 (2012 Census). Other major cities include Maradi with a population of 267,000, Zinder with a population of 236,000, Tahoua with a population of 149,000, Agadèz with a population of 110,000, Arlit with a population of 79,000 (2012 census).
However, most visitors arrive by plane to Niamey, a sprawling city with a lot of greenery, interesting market and, above all, a large museum area, where you can study Nigerian – and the entire region’s – wildlife and traditional crafts, practiced in its natural surroundings in buildings from the country’s various ethnic groups. From Niamey, visitors can make a short excursion north along the Niger River on Western Sahara Road to Ayorou near the Mali border, where you can see hippos, giraffes and various bird species. Another excursion follows the river south towards W du Niger, a national park that extends into neighboring countries and named after Niger’s three bends at its northern end. There you can find most large animals (except rhino and zebra).
As in all African countries, the base food in Niger consists of a starchy porridge, usually cooked on manioc flour for eba, or maize flour for ineoka. This porridge dries out soups or is served for meat or vegetable stews. Dates, raisins and artichokes are often included in the food. Jollof, that is risotto with vegetables or poultry meat, as well as soups with black-eyed beans spiced with crumbled cheese is another everyday food. Dried or smoked fish is not uncommon in the pots; however, to 95 percent, the diet is vegetable food.