The economy of Niger is overwhelmingly agricultural, with about 90% of the workforce engaged in farming (largely of a subsistence type). The Hausa, Kanuri, and Songhai are mainly sedentary farmers, and the Fulani and Tuareg are principally nomadic and seminomadic pastoralists. The leading crops are cowpeas, cotton, peanuts, millet, sorghum, cassava, and rice. Cattle, sheep, goats, camels, donkeys, horses, and poultry are raised. Niger's agricultural production is subject to climatic changes, and there are recurring food shortages due to inadequate harvests resulting from too little rain.
Most of the country's few industries produce basic consumer goods such as processed food and beverages, soap, and textiles. In addition, chemicals, construction materials, peanut oil, and ginned cotton are produced. Niger has some of the world's largest uranium deposits, and the mining of high-grade uranium ore began in the 1970s at Arlit in the Aïr Massif. Small quantities of cassiterite (tin ore), low-grade iron ore, gypsum, phosphates, coal, natron, and salt also are extracted. Gold and petroleum deposits are being explored. There is a fishing industry in the Niger River and Lake Chad.
Niger has a very limited transportation network; there is no railroad, and most of the country's all-weather roads are confined to the south and southwest. A major road also runs N from Zinder, through Agadez (in the Aïr Massif), and into Algeria. Niger is landlocked and has only poor access to the sea.
The annual cost of Niger's imports usually is considerably higher than the value of its exports. The leading imports are foodstuffs, machinery, vehicles and parts, petroleum, and cereals; the chief exports are uranium ore, livestock products, cowpeas, onions, and cotton. The principal trade partners are France, the United States, and Nigeria.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.