Nonriverine Songhay are dryland farmers who cultivate millet as a principal subsistence crop. Most farmers do not sell their grain after the harvest. Millet is cultivated along with cowpeas, sorrel, and groundnuts. Sorghum and manioc are also cultivated in regions with heavy soils. In riverine areas, rice is cultivated. In both riverine and nonriverine areas, dry-season gardens are also cultivated. Gardeners harvest mangoes, guavas, citrus fruits, papayas, dates, and bananas, as well as tomatoes, carrots, peppers, lettuce, cabbages, squashes, sorrel, and okra. The Songhay, like the Zarma, rely heavily upon the household for agricultural labor, but rice cultivators often hire nonkin to harvest their crops.
Like the Zarma, the Songhay are well-known migrants. During the colonial period, both Songhay and Zarma migrated in droves to the colonial Gold Coast, where they were known collectively as either "Zabrama" or "Gao." In Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, and Ivory Coast, Songhay today are cloth merchants as well as nyama-nyama ize ("the children of disorder"), who sell a variety of goods. In Niger, Songhay men sell surplus millet and rice and engage in transport and commerce; women sell cooked foods and condiments.