The Songhai people of Niger live in the Sahelian zone of West Africa, along the intersection of the Niger River and its seasonal tributaries. The indigenous plants and fish sharing this ecological landscape contribute to the daily nutrition, economic stability, and cultural identity of the Songhai people. This local food system and its corresponding local knowledge have largely been understudied in scientific research and under-emphasized in the implementation of food security and development programs. Tallé, a rural village of 3,500 people, was selected as the site to conduct participatory ethnoecological research, given the high value placed on wild collected foods by the community, the number of NGO and development programs in the village, and the interest of the community in local knowledge documentation.
The objectives of this research were to identify common edible wild plant and fish species, document local ethnoecological knowledge, and compare the roles of foods collected in the wild with foods produced from agricultural activities. Using participatory approaches, forty community members took part in the ethnoecological research, using qualitative interviews, focus group discussions, and plant specimen collection to gather data.
Community members identified over thirty species of fish and fifteen species of wild plants that are consumed regularly. They are consumed independently (fresh or dry) and in combination with cultivated foods throughout the year. Local agro-ecological concepts include soil classification schemes, plant associates, and changes in diversity/availability, with varied responses depending on age and gender. Participants did not identify any development projects currently working with wild foods in the village.
The local food system in Tallé is a combination of agriculture and environment, ingrained in seasonality, culture, and an intimate knowledge of the land. These wild foods are integral to sustaining the human population and contribute more than food security; they are food sovereignty for the Songhai. It is the combination of these wild foods, their complementarity with cultivated foods that constitutes the local food system in Tallé. The impact of sustainable development programs can be strengthened through consulting local expertise, integrating culturally/ecologically relevant foods, and informing food policy with local voices, both male and female.