The community depends on rain-fed agriculture for subsistence, and in Niamakoroni the sparse rains fall from June through September. The community depends mainly on this short rainy season to meet most of their food needs. The majority of able-bodied, working-age villagers cultivate or collect food crops and plants, which they refer to as ka balo (for life) activities.
Clearly demarcated gender relations mark this food production process. The men in each household work collectively in their group's main upland field (foroba), located in bush areas a few kilometres from the settlement. Here, staple crops are produced, including sorghum, millet, corn, cowpeas, peanuts and Bambara groundnuts. Throughout most of the region, sorghum and millet account for the most acreage (PIRL, 1988).
Women are responsible for the cultivation and collection of plants, to make the sauces that flavour men's grain crops in the daily meals. During the rainy season married women, in each domestic group, work individually in upland fields assigned to them by the dutigiw to produce nafenw, or 'sauce-things'. Mostly women inter-crop peanuts, cowpeas, kenaf, roselle, okra and sorghum. Cropping patterns focus on traditional leafy and vegetable items that complement the staples produced on the forobaw. Most women's crops are for direct consumption, although sometimes items are sold to generate income, which is typically used to purchase commercial sauce ingredients such as bouillon cubes, vegetable oil or salt (Wooten, 1997).
In addition to cultivating relish crops, in upland fields in the rainy season, throughout the year women gather various wild or semi-wild plant resources from their fields or from bush areas to use in their sauces. They gather and process the leaves of the baobab tree to make a key sauce ingredient, and use the fruit of the shea nut tree to make cooking oil and lotion for skin care. As reported elsewhere in the region (Becker, 2000, 2001; Gakou et al., 1994; Grisby, 1996), they maintain these productive trees in their fields, and make use of species in the bush areas around the community. A wide variety of wild and semi-wild greens are regularly used for their sauces.
This general pattern of distinct gender contributions to the food economy, with men providing grains and women providing sauces, is widespread among the Bamana (Becker, 1996; Thiam, 1986; Toulmin, 1992). However, there is another typical production activity associated with Bamana women: gardening. Accounts from across the Bamana region suggest that women regularly use low-lying areas, near streams, for home gardens and to collect wild plants for sauce ingredients (Grisby, 1996, Konate, 1994). Indeed, nako, the Bamana word for garden, is often translated literally as 'sauce-stream', referring both to the type of produce and to the production site. Women, in most Bamana communities, have for generations been responsible for producing nafenw. Therefore, the historical association between the women of Niamakoroni and nakow (sauce-streams) seems logical. Yet today, they do not garden in such areas around their village. Instead, they grow their sauce crops in upland fields and gather wild food plants in nearby bush areas. Over the past few decades gardening, which was once closely associated with women and the food economy, has become a man's affair and a commercial venture.