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Locations   » Niger

Niger lies between the Sahel and Sahara desert. It is one of the least developed countries, where food insecurity and malnutrition is widespread. Dryland agriculture is the main livelihood of over 80% of the population. ICRISAT is working with national and regional partners to develop adapted and resilient dryland cereals and grain legume varieties, as well as appropriate technologies and practices for better food security.

2.5 million - Chronically food insecure people in Niger

42% - Share of children in Niger who are chronically malnourished (WFP)

7.6 – Births per woman in Niger (among the highest fertility rates globally)

11% - Percentage of Niger's territory that receives 350 mm or more of annual rainfall

3.7 million tons - Millet produced in Niger in 2012. It’s the main crop (65% of cultivated land)

General context
Niger: An arid, very poor and food insecure country

Named after the Niger river which crosses this landlocked, poor and food insecure country, Niger is located in the Sahara–Sahel belt, in West Africa. Its population is over 17.8 million and growing fast as the fertility rate is among the highest in the world, at 7.6 births per woman. The population is expected to increase to over 69 million by 2050 (source: UN population prospects 2012). Niger ranks last on the 2013 Human Development Index (186th of 186 countries), and life expectancy at birth is 55 years.

It is estimated that 2.5 million people in Niger (15% of the population) are chronically food insecure and unable to meet their basic food requirements even during years of average agricultural production. The malnutrition rate is high even during non-crisis years, especially among children and women: one in eight children never reach the age of five and 42 % of children are chronically malnourished.

Agriculture in a challenging environment

Eighty percent of the Nigerien territory is covered by the Sahara desert and only a small portion of the South Niger is fertile. Over 80% of the active population is engaged in agriculture, generating over 40% of the GDP. However, agriculture relies heavily on climate conditions, meaning a low productivity of the various farming systems. When rainfall is deficient, Niger has difficulty feeding its population and must rely on grain purchases and food aid to meet national food requirements.

In addition to severe dryland stresses, the farming constraints include poor water management, land degradation, poor access to equipment and inputs, weak farmer organizations, weak market linkages apart from a few value chains such as vegetables (eg, onions), insufficient storage and post-harvest facilities and poor food processing capacity. 

Farming systems: Apart from the Aïr mountainous region and oasis where fruit and vegetables are important cash crops, the Sahel Sahara zone (north of Niger) is the territory of pastoralism. In the Southern belt (south of Tahoua and Zinder), rainfed crops and crop-livestock farming systems dominate. The main crops are dryland cereals (mostly millets and sorghum) and legumes like cowpea and groundnut. Millet is the main staple crop in Niger covering 65% of the cultivated land. The most productive (and irrigated) lands are located along the Niger river, at the Southern border with Nigeria and Benin. Many farming households depend on agroforestry systems with planting or farmer-managed natural regeneration of drought-resilient multipurpose trees.

Following several years of political instability, the new government has launched the 3N initiative (Nigeriens nourishing Nigeriens), reinforcing the role of the agriculture sector for the development of Niger. Fighting malnutrition, increasing farm productivity, diversification of the farming systems using synergies between crops, trees and livestock, improving resilience against climate shocks and linking farmers to markets are among the 3N priorities.  [Reference: 2012-2015 national development plan (axe3)]

Alongside dryland cereal and legume crop improvement efforts, ICRISAT has a holistic approach to help Nigerien farmers improve their productivity and resilience in a harsh and highly variable climate. Below are some promising approaches:
  • ICRISAT works with partners and farmer's groups to develop crop varieties adapted to water stress, low phosphorus soils and other farming constraints like striga, especially for sorghum and millets and groundnut.  Crop selection uses a participatory farmer approach and modern breeding techniques (such as marker-assisted selection of aluminum-tolerant sorghum and phosphorus intake efficiency).
  • Improving access to better seeds through farmer seed systems.
  • Improving soil fertility with low input practices such as fertilizer microdosing, on-farm rock phosphate application, seed coating in phosphorus or better soil organic matter management.
  • Design and impact assessment of low tech soil and water conservation techniques such as half-moon or zai pits, or appropriate small-scale irrigation systems (African Market Garden ).
  • Diversification is used as an adaptation strategy for climate change and better resilience to a variable climate. ICRISAT studies community management of crop diversity, including incorporating dual-purpose (food and feed) crops, trees or vegetables in cropping systems. Studying and conserving crop genetic diversity, in particular of groundnut, sorghum and millets, is also of importance.
  • Designing productive, diversified and resilient  "evergreen" agroforestry systems, using drought-tolerant trees such as Faidherbia albida acacia or Ziziphus mauritiania, are more productive and resilient to drought than a single annual crop system. The Dryland Eco farm or the Bioreclamation of Degraded Lands (BDL), combining annual crops and drought-tolerant productive trees with soil and water conservation practices, helps cultivate poor soils and enhance incomes. ICRISAT also studies cereal crop-livestock-tree farming systems for better livelihoods of smallholder farmers and sustainable land use.
  • More efficient, inclusive and gender aware dryland crop value chains looking, for instance, at post-harvest operations (such as how to disseminate efficient and affordable millet threshing mills) and linkages to markets.

Gender: In Niger, women are very engaged in agriculture but gender inequality is high in terms of access to land and other farming resources. Only 6.5% of agricultural land is farmed by women. ICRISAT looks at ways to empower women farmers through adapted farming initiatives via women’s farmer groups using the BDL approach or groundnut seed production, and time-saving crop processing.

As temperatures are expected to rise over 1.5 to 3 degrees by 2050, foresight research is key to understanding what the consequence of climate change will be on Nigerien farmers and what appropriate adaptation strategies could be put in place. ICRISAT hosts the West and Central Africa Regional Facilitator of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) in Niamey.

Key documents on Niger

ICRISAT research in Niger

Niger's agroecological zones.


Land (%)

Annual rainfall

Sahel Sudan






Sahel Sahara



Sahara desert



Source: FAO

Fertilizer microdosing, adapted techniques for Nigerien farmers can boost yields up to 55%.
Pruning acacia in a Sahel Ecofarm: Productive and resilient agroforestry systems.
Farming systems empowering women: Bioreclamation of Degraded Lands (BDL).
Animals and trees for a better crop : Improving soil fertility through manure contract in Maradi helps to fight Striga.
Gender is a key dimension of Nigerien agriculture - Millet threshing in Niger is usually very time consuming for women.