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Ongoing assistance programs are barely stabilizing poor households’ food consumption gaps

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Mauritania
  • June 2015
Ongoing assistance programs are barely stabilizing poor households’ food consumption gaps

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook through September 2015
  • Key Messages
    • Ongoing assistance programs (free food distributions, cash transfers, food or cash-for-work, etc.) for poor households in central and southern areas of the country are reducing the number of zones facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity to just Brakna, eastern Assaba, and northern Gorgol.

    • However, due to the inadequacy and poor spatial distribution of current assistance programs, even with an average rainy season, the population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity is expected to grow between July and September 2015, with certain very poor households in western agropastoral areas and central areas of the Senegal River Valley in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) food insecurity.

    • In rainfed farming areas, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity is expected between July and September. Similarly, in other pastoral areas, despite the growth of new pasture which will end the pastoral lean season, the food security situation of poor households is not expected to show any major improvements until the next round of animal births, keeping affected households in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity through at least September.

    Current Situation

    Crops: The “winter” growing season for irrigated rice crops in the Senegal River Valley, harvested in October, has begun although production levels are only significant in the Trarza area. With the nonpayment of 2014 water charges limiting access to farm credit, the size of cropped areas in rice-growing schemes is likely to be scaled back from 2014’s levels. Meanwhile, the provision of 479 metric tons of cereal seeds by FAO to 8,050 households across the country will help ease the seed crisis affecting poor farmers who have not had a good harvest since 2013. However, due to skepticism caused by the failure of the rainfed crops during the past two consecutive years, the only farming activities in progress (land preparation and dry-planting) are occurring in the southern reaches of Hodh El Gharbi and Hodh Ech Chargui, despite the fact that these activities normally take place in May, with crops planted in June. In oasis areas, date production is well below the five-year average as a result of the severe rainfall deficit in 2014. However, this should not lower household income, since the month-long observance of Ramadan will drive date prices to above-average levels. .

    Pastoral conditions: Only in northeastern Trarza, Tiris Zemmour, and Dakhlet Nouadhibou, where 2014 rainfall levels were average, are pastures still able to meet the needs of local livestock (mainly camels). With the lack of pasture in other areas, including southern zones where animals normally graze on dry pastures into the month of July, most livestock departed for Mali as early as April. Amongst the agropastoralists who have stayed put, many having sold off most of their livestock (to feed themselves and their remaining animals) and are facing livelihood protection deficits which will take months, if not years, to recover. However, the pastoral assistance program which is selling animal feed at subsidized prices (3,500 MRO for a 50 kg sack of feed) has moderated price increases for animal feed, with prices ranging from 6500 to 8000 MRO. Some 117,220 pastoralists are targeted by this program and in total, 30,296 metric tons of animal feed will be distributed.

    Income: Poor households are earning very little income from local employment in rice-growing areas due to the strong reliance on cheaper, skilled foreign labor. In addition, the food security impact of village-level irrigation schemes worked by family labor will only be seen during the harvest season (October and November). In other rural, non-mining areas, the lack of local seasonal activities is limiting poor households’ income-earning potential. Consequently, the only currently available sources of seasonal income are livestock sales (for households with any remaining animals) and short-term seasonal labor migration, from which earnings are down to only 25 to 30 percent of average with the atypically large numbers of migrant workers heightening competition for an already limited supply of work opportunities. WFP and a number of NGOs (Save the Children, OXFAM, ACCORD, etc.) are providing monthly cash transfer payments to 69,700 households and 92,334 households, respectively. These payments range from 15,000 to 22,000 MRO, except in areas also targeted for free food distributions, where they are restricted to 12,000 MRO.

    Markets: Markets in all livelihood zones are well-stocked with imported foodstuffs, whose prices have been relatively stable, though the month-long observance of Ramadan beginning in mid-June is expected to trigger food price increases. In addition, the start-up of the pastoral assistance program, reducing demand for wheat earmarked for use as animal feed, and the distribution of free wheat by the government, WFP, and a number of NGOs have stabilized prices of both wheat and sorghum on most markets. For example, wheat prices on the Magta Lahjar and Boghé markets have held steady at 150 and 125 MRO, respectively, since April.

    Prices for livestock on markets in local administrative centers have been rising since May with the departure of transhumant pastoralists for Mali, tightening market supplies. For example, the price of an average sheep is up by 10 percent on the Boghé market in the central reaches of the Senegal River Valley and by seven percent on the Magta Lahjar market in an agropastoral area. Prices in Adel Bagrou, a rainfed farming area, are stable. In general, prices are close to or above the five-year average (- 3 to + 7 percent). However, prices in rural areas are down sharply, where traveling livestock traders are imposing lower prices on households forced to sell their animals in order to purchase food supplies.

    Updated Assumptions

    Developments in the food security situation in all livelihood zones are more or less consistent with the projected outlook for April through September 2015. However, given their potential implications on future outcomes, FEWS NET’s assumptions with regard to the food security impact of rainfall conditions and humanitarian assistance have been updated as follows:

    • Rainfall outlook: Forecasts are indicating average to below-average rainfall (see Figures 1 through 3), which could limit new pasture growth and rainfed farming activities. In such case, pastoral and agropastoral households already severely impacted by current pastoral conditions would face growing food consumption deficits and livelihood protection deficits unless current humanitarian assistance programs are flexible and effective enough to fill in the gap.
    • Humanitarian programs: The CSA (National Food Security Agency), WFP, and a number of NGOs have various types of food assistance programs (distributions of food rations and cash transfer payments) planned for poor households in areas hardest hit by production and pasture deficits. Based on available data, FEWS NET is assuming that at least 50 percent of very poor and poor households in Gorgol, Hodh Echargui, and Tagant will receive humanitarian assistance programs, which should meet at least 20 percent of their energy needs, provided these target households do not share their assistance with the entire poor population in their communities. The practice of sharing reduces the amount of assistance going to each household, but multiplies the number of program beneficiaries.

    Projected Outlook through September 2015

    Between June and September 2015, poor households in western agropastoral areas and the central reaches of the Senegal River Valley will increasingly consume wheat and locally grown rice, as they are the only types of cereals sold by the government-operated “boutiques de solidarité” at subsidized prices. At best, the ongoing distributions of free food assistance and cash transfer payments in most areas will stabilize these households’ food access. However, even with this assistance, poor households in Brakna, western Assaba, and northern Gorgol will continue to sell off their remaining animals, skip meals, and sharply cut back their food consumption. They will have to wait for new crops (leaves, cowpeas, and short-cycle sorghum crops) from rainfed farming activities between August and September to even partially fill current food consumption gaps. In addition, pastoral and agropastoral households in all socioeconomic groups will need to wait for pastoral conditions to improve enough for animals to properly recover (increasing their market value), and for the next round of animal births (six to twelve months after the recovery of pastures) for their food security situation to begin to return to normal. Thus, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) levels of food insecurity will persist in large parts of the country for the next few months, with a high probability of severe food consumption deficits, equivalent to Emergency (IPC Phase 4), for certain very poor households (accounting for less than 20 percent of the population of their respective areas).

    Figures Figure 1. Probability of the most likely rainfall range for July through September 2015

    Figure 1

    Figure 1. Probability of the most likely rainfall range for July through September 2015

    Source: ECMWF

    Figure 2. Probability of below-average rainfall for July through September 2015

    Figure 2

    Figure 2. Probability of below-average rainfall for July through September 2015

    Source: UK MET

    Figure 3. Rainfall anomalies for the period from July through September 2015  (in mm / day)

    Figure 3

    Figure 3. Rainfall anomalies for the period from July through September 2015 (in mm / day)

    Source: NOAA CPC

    Figure 4


    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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