Food Security Outlook Update

Food insecurity levels decreasing in rural areas

August 2012

IPC 2.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
Would likely be at least one phase worse without current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.

IPC 2.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3+: Crisis or higher
Would likely be at least one phase worse without
current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.
FEWS NET Remote Monitoring countries use a colored outline to represent the highest IPC classification in areas of concern.

IPC 2.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

Presence countries:
1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
Remote monitoring
countries:
1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3+: Crisis or higher
Would likely be at least one phase worse without
current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET Remote Monitoring countries use a colored outline to represent the highest IPC classification in areas of concern.

Key Messages

  • The implementation of assistance programs and the revitalization of farming activities has helped to reduce food insecurity levels in farming areas (Figure 1). Rural areas of the country are expected to move into IPC Phase 1: Minimal acute food insecurity between August and December.

  • Rainfall levels between the third dekad of July and the first dekad of August were higher than projected in previous forecasts by AGRHYMET, though spatial-temporal distribution of rainfall has been poor in some areas. 

  • High demand for local farm labor in rainfed farming areas has driven daily wage rates for farm workers up by 50 to 100 percent. 

  • The steady influx of Malian refugees into the southeastern part of the country (more than 103,000) has not significantly impacted market performance or food access of poor Mauritanian households. However, large refugee livestock herds are a threat to local crops. 

Updated food security outlook through September 2012

National Context

Though pockets of rainfall deficits remain compared with seasonal norms, the rainy season is definitively underway in all crop-producing areas. Even with the poor temporal distribution of rainfall, there is visible improvement in pastoral conditions in rainfed farming areas (Figure 3). Milk production in these areas is still limited, but improvements in the physical condition of livestock have driven up prices. Pasture conditions remain generally mediocre in agropastoral areas with the exception of the central reaches of Hodh El Gharbi and Assaba and the northern reaches of Brakna. Local pastoralists, like those in transhumant pastoral areas, are still resorting to the use of animal feed rather than forcing enfeebled animals to travel to pasture areas.  Mauritanian government restrictions on the re-exportation of crops and the residual effects of the crisis in Mali (instability in the southeast) have slowed crucial flows of the cereal trade in border areas of Mauritania.

Ongoing assistance programs continue in all parts of the country, helping to strengthen food access systems for poor households. Cash transfer programs (furnishing 15,000 MRO per household per month) in central and eastern rainfed farming areas, central and western agropastoral areas, and the central reaches of the Senegal River Valley have revived local coping strategies (borrowing against future income) and strengthened food access through SAVS (village-level food security reserves) and in government-subsidized shops.  According to UNHCR, as of August 21st, 103,755 Malian refugees (20,524 families) are living at the M’Bera camp and a steady influx of new arrivals, with the potential to disrupt planned food assistance efforts due to the continuous waves of new refugees and the logistics problems, complicating supply systems for camps. The Mauritanian government still has no specific assistance plan, but is working closely with its partners. WFP has drawn up a contingency plan to provide for the possibility of a doubling in size of the current refugee population (103,000), which will be submitted to the Country Humanitarian Committee to serve as a national contingency plan.

Crop production 

The government’s target is to cultivate 292,000 hectares for crop production (including 35,000 hectares in irrigated rice crops), which should put gross grain production at 265,000 MT (135,000 MT of rice and 130, 000 MT of coarse grains). However, poor rainfall distribution between June and the first dekad of August and seed access constraints could hinder the likelihood of reaching these production targets. 

Diéri and rainfed crops: The first short-cycle sorghum crops planted between the end of June and the beginning of July was largely unsuccessful in all areas except for southern Hodh el Chargui and Hodh el Gharbi due to extended dry spells, which are a relatively common phenomenon, particularly with early crops planted between June and the second dekad of July. Most planting and replanting activities since the end of the second dekad of July involved long-cycle crops (July - November). Though larger than last year, the size of cropped areas is still below-average due to poor seed access. The seed aid furnished by the government with assistance from FAO (460 MT) meets 24 percent of normal needs in an average year. Short-cycle crop seed shortages are pushing farmers to resort to the use of long-cycle varieties purchased on the market, which is a relatively common practice. As of the end of the first dekad of August, sorghum crops were in anywhere from the sprouting stage (in central and western rainfed farming areas) to the tillering stage (in the east) of their growth cycle, with adequate soil water conditions. Many farmers have started preparing their land for the sowing of late-season crops in August, which should reach full maturity sometime between December and January. The planting of diéri crops got underway in the first dekad of August in southern agropastoral areas.

Lowland crops: Most lowlands lie in agropastoral areas, where isolated heavy downpours filled these depressions which, in some cases, overflowed, flooding local villages (Magta Lahjar, Sangrava, and Choggar). If current water levels hold steady between now and October (the farming period in these areas), the size of cropping areas could be equal to if not larger than average, in which case the 100 MT of seeds earmarked for these types of crops (representing 42 percent of normal needs for seeds) will not suffice to plant all of this year’s viable areas in crops.

Irrigated winter crops: The winter growing season for irrigated crops is underway in all four regions of the country (Trarza, Brakna, Gorgol, and Guidimakha). In the face of the limited availability of plowing equipment and farm inputs (seeds and fertilizer) in spite of the 50 percent government subsidy, and with access to farm credit restricted to the few farmers having paid off their outstanding loans, only 1,500 hectares had been planted in rice as of the end of the third dekad of July. The July outlook by FEWS NET assumed that even indebted farmers would be granted a moratorium, giving them access to farm credit and allowing them to spread out payments on their loans. As this was not the case, farmers resorted to local sources of financing which, in many cases, did not provide enough funding for the planting of all irrigated areas in crops. However, this should not affect the overall food security outlook for the zone.

Walo crops: The flooding of walo areas began later than usual, or sometime in the first dekad of August instead of by mid-July, as is generally the case in an average year. Normally, these areas flood between July and August and the waters recede in October/November. Flood levels and the length of submersion periods in walo areas are crucial factors in establishing crop production forecasts for February/March 2013.

Market behavior 

Retail markets are well-stocked, though only with rice, wheat, and other imported foodstuffs. Coarse grain supplies are still limited, with the high demand for seeds driving up sorghum prices in rainfed farming areas between May and July (by 16 percent in Boghé and 29 percent in Adel Bagrou). While this is a common phenomenon, the large demand for seeds and sharp drop in cross-border trade have sharpened seasonal price increases. Wheat prices in all parts of the country have increased since July in line with seasonal trends, driven by the effects of government restrictions (increasing prices in Tintane by 5.8 percent), demand for animal feed (increasing prices in Boghé and Magta Lahjar, the main provisioning markets for pastoralists in northwestern agropastoral areas, by 7 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively), and demand from the refugee population (increasing prices in Adel Bagrou by 4.7 percent).  However, prices for both cereals on all retail markets are expected to decrease as of September with harvests of short-cycle crops, although prices may not drop quite as much in the southeast (in Bassikounou and Amourj departments), where demand from the refugee population could soar in the face of a continuing influx of new arrivals or a shortage of aid.  The flow of coarse grain trade is extremely limited, but trading activities associated with the marketing of local rice crops have resumed with harvests of hot off-season crops in the western reaches of the River Valley (in southern Trarza). Nouakchott is still the main trading hub, though certain rice farmers are selling their crops directly in their local area (in Adrar and Tagant). Livestock price increases in July (by 9 percent in Adel Bagrou, 5.5 percent in Boghé, 41 percent in Aoujeft, and 81.5 percent in Magta Lahjar) will gain new momentum between August and November in all parts of the country with the high demand for live animals for the religious holidays and the improvement in the physical condition of livestock due to more favorable pastoral conditions. 

Rainfed farming zone

Humanitarian assistance programs in these areas are ongoing. The gradual onset of the rainy season has revitalized all sources of seasonal income. Daily wage rates, which had already jumped from 1,500 MRO to 2,000 MRO by mid-July, have been above 3,000 MRO since the beginning of August, double their normal level. Even with the return of the rural workforce, spurred by good growing season conditions, wages are not expected to decline with farmers racing against the clock to plant large areas in long-cycle crops to make up for shortfalls in harvests of short-cycle crops. Improvements in pastoral conditions and higher household incomes should bring down current food insecurity levels from IPC Phase 2 (stressed) to IPC Phase 1 (minimal acute food insecurity) as of September/October with harvests of short-cycle crops.

Agropastoral zone

In spite of the heavy rains in these areas in the third dekad of July and the first dekad of August flooding local villages (Magta Lahjar, Sangrava, etc.), large pasture deficits remain, particularly in northern and western agropastoral areas. Only in central agropastoral areas bordering on rainfed farming areas (Kankossa and Kiffa departments), where farming and pastoral conditions are already good, have the effects of assistance programs, on-farm employment opportunities, and milk access actually propelled farming-oriented agropastoralists into IPC Phase 1 (minimal acute food insecurity), which is unusual at this time of year anywhere in these areas, even in a normal year. So far, only small tracts of land have been planted in rainfed crops. For the time being, markets are still well-stocked and livestock price increases (by anywhere from 30 to 80 percent compared with June prices) are largely offsetting any hikes in food prices, turning terms of trade for livestock/food in favor of livestock-selling households. With a continuation of the current pattern of rainfall, new pasture growth should decrease food insecurity levels for both livestock and agriculture-oriented poor households in these areas to IPC Phase 1 (minimal acute food insecurity) between October and December.

Transhumant pastoral areas 

While harvests of hot off-season rice crops have improved food access, pastoral conditions in the neighboring Senegal River Valley are a continuing source of concern for local pastoralists still forced to resort to the use of animal feed, except in the southeastern reaches of R’Kiz department, impacting middle-income households most significantly. The Rosso,  Boutilimit, and Aleg markets all have large supplies of livestock. The already low June prices for cattle compared with the same time last year (-53 percent in the case of bull-calves and -61 percent in the case of dairy cows) fell even further in July (putting the price of bull-calves 58 percent below last year and the price of dairy cows down by 63 percent). However, the first beneficial rains in these areas (in the first dekad of August) stabilized prices, as a prelude to their imminent rebound. 

About this Update

This monthly report covers current conditions as well as changes to the projected outlook for food insecurity in this country. It updates FEWS NET’s quarterly Food Security Outlook. Learn more about our work here.

About FEWS NET

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network is a leading provider of early warning and analysis on food insecurity. Created by USAID in 1985 to help decision-makers plan for humanitarian crises, FEWS NET provides evidence-based analysis on approximately 30 countries. Implementing team members include NASA, NOAA, USDA, USGS, and CHC-UCSB, along with Chemonics International Inc. and Kimetrica.
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