by Caroline Moss
According to 2019 Global Hunger Index, a report produced by the Irish humanitarian organization Concern Worldwide and the German aid organization Welthungerhilfe, Niger is the 16th hungriest country in the world. The causes of hunger go beyond a lack of available food to include population growth, drought, political instability, conflict, and lack of access to clean water. Because of drought, agriculture is unreliable, and many women are forced to walk to retrieve water for themselves and their families. Lack of enough nutritious food causes malourishment, which is a huge concern for the people of rural Niger.
Niger’s cuisine varies by location. In southern Niger, meals are built around millet, sorghum, rice, and niebé, a type of bean. These staples are plain, yet very filling. Millet is a versatile grain that originated in Africa. The grain is known for its drought resistance and the ability to grow in poor soil. Because of its resiliency, it has become a staple in diets and constitutes a large portion of calories consumed by Nigeriens, particularly in rural areas. Millet is pounded into flour, made into a paste or porridge, and then covered with a stew or sauce for flavor. The stews and soups are typically made with peanuts and vegetables. Many Nigeriens have poor diets because of the lack of dietary diversity and a high reliance on staple foods. Because of chronic drought, fresh produce is scarce.
Saffron, nutmeg, and cinnamon are commonly used spices because of trade with northern Africa. Niger’s cuisine is influenced heavily by Arab and French traditions. Niger gained its independence from France in 1960 but still maintains many French traditions. Women do the majority of cooking while men work. Few recipes are written down, most are passed down orally from mother to daughter. Nigerien cuisine is less famous on an international level because few recipes are documented.
Rice and meat are often saved for special occasions. Pork is rarely eaten as the majority of the population is Muslim. Most meat is cooked on a grill over hot coals. Many people eat fish from the Niger river. Fish and beans provide much-needed protein for the population.
Tea is quite popular and has a strong social component for the Tuaregs, a nomadic tribe. The tea ceremony is described as somewhat onerous, because of the patience required. Three rounds of tea are served. The same tea leaves are used for each serving and increasing amounts of sugar are added each round. The first serving is called “bitter as death,” the second “mild as life,” and the third “sweet as love.” To leave before drinking all three rounds of tea is insulting, because of cultural implications and water scarcity.
Although the cuisine in Niger varies, one thing is certain, water is crucial to nutritional health. Water aids in digestion, helps with nutrient absorption, and can help fight off illness. It is a human right and a vital part of human life. We may enjoy similar foods and recognized shared cultures, but all people do not have access to clean water. Consider donating to Wells Bring Hope today to give more Nigeriens access to clean water.
Giovetti, Olivia. “Fighting Hunger in Niger: 3 Causes of Hunger, 3 Causes for Hope.”
“Niger Food and Drink Guide.” World Travel Guide.