Niger is a landlocked Sub-Sahara African nation. The economy of Niger centres on subsistence agriculture, animal husbandry, re-export trade, and export of uranium. The 50% devaluation of the West African CFA franc in January 1994 boosted exports of livestock, cowpeas, onions, and the products of Niger's small cotton industry. The government relies on bilateral and multilateral aid - which was suspended following the April 1999 coup d'état - for operating expenses and public investment. Short-term prospects depend on continued World Bank and IMF debt relief and extended aid.
Niger's economy is based largely on subsistence crops, livestock, and some of the world's largest uranium deposits. Drought cycles, desertification, a 3.4% population growth rate and the drop in world demand for uranium have undercut an already marginal economy. Traditional subsistence farming, herding, small trading, and informal markets dominate an economy that generates few formal sector jobs.
Current GDP per capita of Niger grew 10% in the Sixties reaching a peak growth of 187% in the Seventies. But this proved unsustainable and it consequently shrank by 27% in the Eighties and a further 48% in the Nineties.
Niger's agricultural and livestock sectors are the mainstay of all but 18% of the population. Fourteen percent of Niger's GDP is generated by livestock production (camels, goats, sheep and cattle), said to support 29% of the population. The 15% of Niger's land that is arable is found mainly along its southern border with Nigeria. Rainfall varies and when insufficient, Niger has difficulty feeding its population and must rely on grain purchases and food aid to meet food requirements. Although the rains in 2000 were not good, those in 2001 were plentiful and well distributed. Pearl millet, sorghum, and cassava are Niger's principal rain-fed subsistence crops. Irrigated rice for internal consumption, while expensive, has, since the devaluation of the CFA franc, sold for below the price of imported rice, encouraging additional production. Cowpeas and onions are grown for commercial export, as are small quantities of garlic, peppers, potatoes, and wheat.
Of Niger's exports, foreign exchange earnings from livestock, although impossible to quantify, are second only to those from uranium. Actual exports far exceed official statistics, which often fail to detect large herds of animals informally crossing into Nigeria. Some hides and skins are exported and some are transformed into handicrafts.
The persistent uranium price slump has brought lower revenues for Niger's uranium sector, although uranium still provides 72% of national export proceeds. The nation enjoyed substantial export earnings and rapid economic growth during the 1960s and 1970s after the opening of two large uranium mines near the northern town of Arlit. When the uranium-led boom ended in the early 1980s, however, the economy stagnated and new investment since then has been limited. Niger's two uranium mines (SOMAIR's open pit mine and COMINAK's underground mine) are owned by a French-led consortium and operated by French interests.
Exploitable deposits of gold are known to exist in Niger in the region between the Niger River and the border with Burkina Faso. Substantial deposits of phosphates, coal, iron, limestone, and gypsum also have been found. Numerous foreign companies, including American firms, have taken out exploration licenses for concessions in the gold seam in western Niger, which also contains deposits of other minerals.
Several oil companies explored for petroleum since 1992 in the Djado plateau in north-eastern Niger and the Agadem basin, north of Lake Chad but made no discoveries worth developing at the time. In June 2007, however, China National Petroleum Corporation (state-owned by the People's Republic of China) signed a US$5 billion agreement to extract oil in the Agadem block, as well as build a 20,000 barrels per day oil refinery and a 2,000 km oil pipeline in the country; production is expected to start in 2009.
Niger's known coal reserves, with low energy and high ash content, cannot compete against higher quality coal on the world market. However, the parastatal SONICHAR (Société nigérienne de charbon) in Tchirozerine (north of Agadez) extracts coal from an open pit and fuels an electricity generating plant that supplies energy to the uranium mines.
After the economic competitiveness created by the January 1994 CFA franc devaluation contributed to an annual average economic growth of 3.5% throughout the mid-1990s, the economy stagnated due the sharp reduction in foreign aid in 1999, which gradually resumed in 2000, and poor rains in 2000. Reflecting the importance of the agricultural sector, the return of good rains was the primary factor underlying a projected growth of 4.5% for 2001.
In recent years, the Government of Niger promulgated revisions to the investment code (1997 and 2000), petroleum code (1992), and mining code (1993), all with attractive terms for investors. The present government actively seeks foreign private investment and considers it key to restoring economic growth and development. With the assistance of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), it has undertaken a concerted effort to revitalize the private sector.
Niger shares a common currency, the CFA franc, and a common central bank, the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), with six other members of the West African Monetary Union. The Treasury of the Government of France supplements the BCEAO's international reserves in order to maintain a fixed rate of 100 CFA (Communauté financière africaine) to the French franc (to the euro as of January 1, 2002).