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A long dry spell slows the decline in food insecurity in central Mauritania

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Mauritania
  • August 2017
A long dry spell slows the decline in food insecurity in central Mauritania

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • The long dry spell since the end of the first dekad of July has wiped out the positive effects of the early rains at the end of June and the beginning of July on crops and pastures in the central and western reaches of the country. However, barring a lack of useful rainfall in the first dekad of August, this should not affect the normal crop calendar.

    • Harvests of hot off-season rice crops in southern Trarza, Brakna, and Gorgol have improved household cereal availability and bolstered market supplies. Markets are still well-stocked with staple foods at relatively stable prices. There are still limited supplies of coarse cereals and cowpeas and a heightened demand for seeds with the withering of early-planted crops. 

    • The approaching Tabaski holiday is heightening demand for livestock and boosting income from the sale of animals. The new pasture growth and likely pick-up in farming activities in August will provide access to additional income, strengthening the impact of ongoing financial assistance programs in the above-mentioned areas of concern. The cumulative effects of these factors will bring food insecurity down to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) levels by October.



    Seasonal Progress: The rainy season got off to an early start, producing higher levels of cumulative seasonal rainfall than in 2016 in all parts of the country with the exception of the transhumant pastoral zone and western reaches of the agropastoral zone in Trarza. However, there has been a long dry spell since the end of the first dekad of July.

    Crops: The harvest of hot off-season irrigated crops in Trarza and Gorgol was completed in July. Production levels were visibly better than in 2016 owing to higher crop yields due largely to the good adherence to the crop calendar and timely implementation of effective bird control measures in Brakna, where only part of local crops have been harvested due to the delay in the start-up of farming activities in certain irrigation schemes, whose crops are still in the maturation phase. The growing season for “winter” rice crops is underway but, as of the end of the third dekad of July, the number of cropped areas was negligible and, with the poorly equipped irrigation schemes, there is every reason to believe there will be smaller viable crop-growing areas than in 2016. This is all the more likely with the government having ruled out any possibility of debt forgiveness.  

    The rainfed crops planted in July in most farming areas have withered with the long break in the rains. The only surviving crops are in depression areas but are so severely wilted that it is questionable whether they will recover. With the loss of the free traditional seeds distributed by the government and planted in July, households will resort to purchasing sorghum and millet crops, though the slowdown in Malian imports has hurt supplies of these crops on local markets.

    The date harvest in oasis areas has been completed. The volume of production is in line with the average and even better than in 2016.

    Pastoral conditions: Conditions in pastoral areas in the western and central reaches of the country are troubling due to the lack of new pasture growth. Animals are already grazing on green grass by this time in an average year, which was the case in 2016. Pastoralists in many pastoral areas are continuing to purchase animal feed for their animals. Seasonal migration routes have shifted with the early rains and ensuing long dry spell. The drying up of grasslands in pastoral reserves in southern Gorgol is emptying these areas, driving pastoralists and their livestock herds into southern Guidimakha and southwestern Assaba with lusher green pastures.

    Income: As was the case in August 2016, poor households in farming areas for hot off-season irrigated crops have more or less near-average if not above-average incomes from the good harvests in these areas. The sale of rice straw to sedentary pastoralists involved in sales networks for milk is also generating large amounts of income. The long dry spell in farming areas for rainfed crops has limited farming activities and resulting incomes. Discouraged by the long break in the rains, many workers engaged in short-term seasonal labor migration returning home for the growing season have already left again, which, along with other factors, will likely reduce the size of the area planted in crops if the long-expected pick-up in rainfall activity in August materializes.   

    Markets: All retail markets are well-stocked with imported foods (rice, wheat, sugar, and oil), whose prices have been relatively stable since June. Trends in coarse cereal prices are as much a function of the start of the rainy season as of the location’s proximity to Mali, which is the main source of coarse cereal supplies at this time of year. The distributions of food rations by the government in rainfed farming areas along the country’s border with Mali have reduced demand for commercially marketed coarse cereal crops. There is little demand for sorghum on the Magta Lahjar market in the northwestern reaches of the agropastoral zone with the limited rainfall activity in July failing to jump-start farming activities, driving its unit price down by 3.7 percent from the month of June.

    In general, supplies of animals on livestock markets are low on account of the mass migration by Mauritanian livestock herds to the southern part of the country and into Mali. As a result, the price of an average sheep on the Magta Lahjar market severely affected by the pasture shortage is up by 16.6 percent from the month of June. On the other hand, the lower demand for Mauritanian sheep on markets with strong competition such as Adel Bagrou on the Malian border has driven prices down by 21 percent since June.


    The assumptions used by FEWS NET in establishing the most likely scenario for August 2017 through January 2018 have not changed in spite of the early start of the rainy season and the ensuing long dry spell since the end of the first dekad of July.


    The increase in rainfall activity in rainfed farming and agropastoral areas will jump-start farming activities for rainfed crops and revive pastures. Even with a slight lag in the crop calendar compared with 2016, when there was already useful rainfall by the end of July or the beginning of August, rainfed crops (particularly short-cycle crops) will complete their growing cycle by October rather than September, as is the case in an average year. However, this extension of the lean season should only affect poor farming households, mainly those in the western reaches of the agropastoral zone currently in the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) phase of food insecurity. These households are expected to continue to resort to atypical seasonal coping strategies (loans of food and seasonal sales of livestock), which will keep pressure on their livelihoods. By the middle of August, farming and pastoral conditions in the rest of the country should bring food insecurity back down to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) levels.

    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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