Food Security Outlook Update

Deterioration in food security in eastern areas of the Rainfed crop zone

March 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

  • According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Mauritanian government, over 43,000 Malian DPs arrived in Mauritania’s moughataa Bassikounou in the southern areas of the country’s Rain-fed agricultural zone between February and March. 

  • Poor households in Bassikounou have been in IPC Phase 3 (crisis) since January due to poor access to food and water. According to food security assessments by the WFP and the Mauritanian government, 37 percent of the population is experiencing severe levels of food insecurity, the highest percentage in the last four years.

  • The earlier and more acute than usual limitations on water access are a major food insecurity problem. Per capita daily water availability in receiving areas for refugees is already down from nine to six liters. This has driven up the selling price of water by 50 percent in urban and peri-urban areas. 

Updated food security outlook through September 2012

In general, household reserves in farming and agropastoral communities which, in an average year, normally help meet the needs of poor households through April/May have been depleted since February.  Markets are well-stocked with imported foodstuffs whose prices have been relatively stable, with occasional small drops (in the case of sorghum prices). The normally significant flow of sorghum imports from Mali between October and December of last year has since slowed. Pastoralists, the main source of grain demand, are buying their supplies directly from Mali, establishing reserves at different relay points along seasonal migration routes. Competition from pastoralists bound for Mali currently residing in rainfed farming areas and buying up large quantities of sorghum for use as animal feed is restricting the flow of sorghum to other parts of the country. Poor wheat availability on local markets in these areas is limiting most market buying to sorghum.

On the other hand, there are generally large supplies of substitute grains (local or imported rice and wheat) and grain prices are relatively stable. Sorghum prices came down between February and March of this year (by anywhere from seven percent in Boghé, in the Senegal River Valley, to as much as 45 percent in Tintane, in the southern reaches of the country’s agropastoral area). These localized price cuts are attributable to the small harvests of flood-recession crops (walo crops and crops grown in dam and bas fond areas) and clearance sales by Malian grain traders who need to move their small remaining inventories. However, this decline in sorghum prices cannot keep the price of wheat from rising indefinitely, as there is simply too much demand, both for use as an animal feed and for human consumption. Markets are expected to remain well-stocked with supplies of imported rice. Prices for both local and imported rice have been stable, but are expected to rise over the next few months. The heavy pressure on wheat and sorghum supplies will drive up prices and shift demand to rice, even if it is not used as feed for livestock.

Poor water access is a major problem and source of food insecurity, reflected in higher water prices in urban and peri-urban areas. The cost of a 20-liter bottle of water has increased from 20 to 30 MRO in Teïchett (Tjntane department) and Adel Bagrou (Amourj department), which has its own borehole. The same 200-liter barrel of water purchased by a water vendor for 100 MRO and resold in January to a household without its own water supply for 200 MRO has been selling for 300 MRO since the middle of March. Water access in rural areas is also deteriorating. At this time of year, pastoralists are normally able to water their animals at wells and households are usually able to obtain water locally or, at most, from sources within less than two kilometers from their village. However, with the strong competition from local and transhumant animal herds, people are currently forced to travel more than five kilometers a day to different water sources and wait on line for more than eight hours to fill a dozen or so 20-liter bottles of water. Signs of these higher prices and levels of effort are being reported a month earlier than usual.

The government has begun to implement its emergency program. A targeting phase for program beneficiaries across the country (109,850 households) was followed by the start-up of distributions of free food aid, which covered a good part of the month of March.  There is sufficient funding for March and April, but the government does not yet have the necessary financial backing to continue the program between May and September. Even with assistance, poor households in agropastoral and rainfed farming areas can no longer afford to eat two meals a day.  Efforts to restock village-level food security reserves (SAVS) and government-subsidized shops associated with the Operation Solidarité program continue.

An assistance program for pastoralists is also underway. However, according to the local population, very few households are receiving program aid. The large size of household herds prevents most households from benefiting from this program. This is mainly affecting middle-income and better-off pastoralists in agropastoral areas, who had been counting on the program to avoid the pitfalls of seasonal migration which, in many cases, can prove too costly and extremely risky, with mediocre pastoral conditions in border areas of Mali necessitating deeper than usual forays into Malian territory.

Coping strategies continue to focus on increased out-migration (by entire households), skipping meals (particularly in Aftout and Affole), and borrowing. Reliance on migrant remittances by households in remote areas (Aftout and Affolé) is increasing, though the volume of remittances has fallen off since February. The larger number of migrants (two to three per household) has had less effect on seasonal migration income in these areas than in rainfed crop areas.

Rain-fed crop zone

There are large numbers of closed-up houses, huts, and sheds in villages across rainfed farming areas. Some 30 percent of homes in Diéguéniaye, an eastern rain-fed crop area, are closed up due to out-migration. While it is normal for some household members to engage in migration at this time of year, the extent of out-migration by entire households is abnormal and indicative of stress on food security. This phenomenon can be observed all across the area extending from the east of the moughataa Bassikounou to the southern reaches of Tintane.

In spite of the larger numbers of migrants (two to three per household), according to aid recipients interviewed in Teichett, in Touil district, seasonal migration income may actually be down from last year and lower than usual due to the fewer employment opportunities available in Mali.

In addition, the influx of Malian refugees (according to different sources, the count was 43,000 as of March 25th) into Fassala Néré district has widened the already existing gap between local food availability and demand. Local traders are unprepared to meet this additional demand. Thus, while markets across the country are generally well-stocked with foodstuffs, markets in eastern rain-fed cropping areas, including the southern part of Nema department and the eastern part of moughataa Bassikounou (Fassala Néré district), are reporting a limited availability of local and imported grains and soaring prices compared with prices in neighboring Amourj department (40 percent higher prices for sorghum and 20 percent higher prices for rice).

Daily wage rates, which were up from 2010/11 by 50 percent between July/September of last year and February of this year, have since fallen back down to their previous level. Income from on-farm labor (which accounts for anywhere from five to 20 percent of annual household income, depending on the area and wealth group in question) for the 2011/12 crop year is around 50 percent lower than usual.

The number of work days per week was cut back from three to two between February and March due to the larger supply of labor with the influx of refugees and the end of the harvest of walo crops. The sudden, massive influx of Malian refugees and the mounting unrest in this area have limited prospects for increasing the flow of trade to keep pace with the growth in demand.

Competition from refugees in eastern rain-fed cropping areas will create a labor surplus for the 2012/13 crop year, lowering the daily wage rate from 1,000 MRO/day in 2011/12 to 750 MRO/day for the 2012/13 season.

Even with the substitution of local rice and wheat, poor households do not have a large enough flow of seasonal income to meet their food needs. Their lower incomes as a result of competition from the refugee population and their limited employment opportunities are making it difficult for poor households to buy provisions on a market where wheat supplies are clearly insufficient to meet demand.

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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