Niger: Fighting food insecurity with indigenous plants (Spore Magazine)

| October 30, 2018

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The shrub-like plants called hanza and aduwa in Hausa resemble their surroundings—dry, hard, and spiky—and grow on stony desert plains and dry soils across Niger. The plants are known as taedent and taboraq in the local Tamesheq language.

Traditionally, these indigenous plants were not cultivated, but grew wild in cereal and legume fields. They produce fruit, leaves, and gum that locals harvested and ate, or used in medicine.

But a company called Sahara Sahel Foods is using these indigenous plants, along with a dozen others, to produce highly nutritious food, and to provide an income to rural people who are cultivating the plants.

Mamou Rabia is a farmer in the Maradi region. She says: “We knew that some of these natural trees could produce food for local consumption, but we didn’t realize they could provide us with a substantial cash income, even during a poor harvest.”

Sahara Sahel Foods works with 1,500 women across three of Niger’s seven regions—Diffa, Maradi, and Zinder. The women plant neglected indigenous species such as hanza and aduwa, using direct seeding or relying on natural regeneration.

Josef Garvi is the founder of Sahara Sahel Foods. He explains how the company does direct seeding: “The seeds are sown in grids. After one year, we start thinning out the plants that have germinated in a grid, keeping the strongest of the seedlings. A direct seeding grid usually produces a mature tree.”

Barira Safiatou also farms in the Maradi region, and is making a good income from her work with Sahara Sahel Foods. She says, “Even better, we have become permanent local forestry agents.”

With successful harvests, the women earn more than 100,000 FCFA ($175 US) per year. The company was launched in 2014, and by the second year was harvesting 50 tonnes of fruit, leaves, and gum—double what they expected.

Sahara Sahel Foods runs a processing plant in the Zinder region of southeastern Niger, but markets in shops across the country. Their products include fruit juices and pulps, oils, almonds, confectionery, and teas, all derived from natural plant species.

Mr. Garvi is hoping to add production facilities in other regions of the country, and to expand his business to other countries where the same indigenous trees grow.


This article is adapted from a story titled “Nutritious products: Fighting food insecurity with indigenous plants,” which was originally published in Spore Magazine. To read the full story, go to: