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Continued poor food access in rainfed farming and agropastoral areas

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Mauritania
  • May 2012
Continued poor food access in rainfed farming and agropastoral areas

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  • Key Messages
  • Updated food security outlook through September 2012
  • Key Messages
    • Poor households in the southeastern reaches of livelihood zone 6 (rainfed farming areas) and the central and western reaches of livelihood zone 5 (agropastoral areas) will be in IPC Phase 3 (crisis) into the month of June. Assuming the rainy season gets off to a normal start in June/July, this should help stabilize household purchasing power to some extent by July, as the beginning of the growing season offers the prospect of new sources of income and improvements in pasture conditions.

    • Close to 64,000 Malian refugees currently live in the M’Bera camp. So far, the impact of this refugee population has not been reflected in market prices or food availability, which remains generally stable. The one-off, localized rises in prices reported in February/March have begun to level off with the mounting of assistance programs, reducing pressure on local markets. This equilibrium should continue unless cutbacks in aid levels result in refugees being more dependent on local markets to meet their food needs.

    • With the influx of refugees, the seasonal incomes of poor Mauritanian households in refugee receiving areas in the southeastern reaches of livelihood zone 6 are lower than usual and below seasonal trends. The larger number of market players has reduced the earnings of households who normally support themselves through sales of firewood, charcoal, and straw, weakening their food purchasing power during the lean season. 

    • The crisis conditions (IPC Phase 3) affecting poor households in the central and western reaches of the country’s agropastoral livelihood zone have stabilized thanks to the leveling off (and, in some cases, decrease) in prices for major foodstuffs, the increase in cross-border trade, and the mounting of assistance programs which, together, have improved household food access.  Assuming a normal start to the rainy season and a  normal distribution of rainfall, the improvement in pastoral conditions as of August should put these poor households back in IPC Phase 2 (Stressed) until the September harvests.

    Updated food security outlook through September 2012

    In general, poor households in the southeastern reaches of the country’s rainfed farming zone (Bassikounou, Amourj, and Djiguenni departments) and the central and western reaches of its agropastoral zone (Tintane, Tamchakett, Kiffa, Kankossa, Barkéol, Moudjéria, Tidjikja, Magta Lahjar, and Aleg departments) especially reliant on crop production and demand for farm labor, local pastures, and wild plant products and forced to purchase a large part of their food supplies are facing a food crisis between now and September.  Household reserves from on-farm crop production (in lowland, dam, and rainfed farming areas) were depleted three months earlier than usual in all potential problem areas (the eastern and southern reaches of livelihood zone 6 and the central and western reaches of livelihood zone 5), making local households entirely dependent on market-buying. However, part of their food needs are being met by the assistance programs starting up in March, bolstering traditional coping strategies based on loans of foodstuffs imported from Mali (millet, sorghum, cowpeas, and groundnuts) and Nouakchott (rice, wheat, oil, sugar, tea, and pasta). So far, this has prevented a sharp rise in food insecurity levels in agropastoral and rainfed farming areas compared with conditions in March.

    Livelihood zone 6 (rainfed farming areas)

    The presence of 64,000 refugees in the eastern reaches of the country’s rainfed farming zone is a source of concern, both for the humanitarian agencies active in this area and for the local population facing reductions in income and environmental degradation. The growth in demand has met with a positive response from Mauritanian and Malian traders (including incoming refugees with their own stocks of grain), who are providing local markets with regular supplies in spite of the slowdown in trade flows from Mali.  The sudden surge in prices (> 60 percent in the case of rice and 70 percent in the case of millet and sorghum) between February and March on the Bassikounou and Fassala markets has since slowed. It was likely attributable to the sudden growth in demand from refugees with disposable income and the tightening of supplies with the decline in food availability in the aftermath of the poor 2011 local grain harvest. The slowdown in trade flows from Mali, which are normally the main source of local millet and sorghum supplies, also operated as an aggravating factor.  Beginning as of the end of March, distributions of free food aid, government-subsidized marketing programs, and lower demand from pastoralists returning to seasonal grazing lands in Mali have reduced market demand for food, helping to stabilize food prices.  The sole exception is demand for wheat, which is becoming increasingly popular as a food grain for human consumption. Though fluctuations in wheat prices on markets in local capitals (Adel Bagrou and Bassikounou) have been minor, prices in predominantly pastoral areas (on the Soramassa market) jumped 34 percent between January and April.

    Though grain prices have stabilized, the seasonal incomes of poor households are lower than usual. The return of migrant workers from urban areas and the Niger Delta since March (approximately three people per households) has sharply reduced purchasing power with the loss of income from the remittances sent home by these workers between October and April. Normally, they do not return home until just before the start of the rainy season (in June). Local self-employment income during the lean season is down due to competition (with the larger availability of labor) compared with normal seasonal trends.  Normally, there are constant sales of firewood, charcoal, and straw throughout the year, which tend to become more widespread during the off season (between February and May) with the winding down of farming activities and the rebalancing of household migration strategies. This year, the larger number of market players has reduced the market share of those who normally earn a living from these activities. For example, a cartload of firewood normally selling for 2500 MRO is currently worth 7000 MRO (65 percent more). However, in spite of the large demand for firewood from the more than 12,000 refugee households and the local population during this year’s lean season, firewood vendors are actually earning less than usual due to the need to travel double the distance to wood collection areas, reducing the number of days normally devoted to selling the wood. The resulting loss of income has unexpectedly eroded the purchasing power of very poor and poor households.

    With the demand for labor for the construction of sanitary facilities and the erection of tents, employment in work programs currently underway at the refugee camp is an alternate source of income but  wages are 50 percent lower than in an average year in which day laborers generally earn 2000 MRO. For example, a local entrepreneur in charge of erecting 65 tents is employing 180 workers and paying them 2500 MRO per tent. Thus, at the end of the work day, the workers share a payment of 162,500 MRO, resulting in a daily wage of 902 MRO each, lower than normal. 

    Pastoral conditions are steadily deteriorating, affecting the health and earning power of livestock, most of which are still in Mali. Facing the current crisis, pastoralists headed for western Mali (the Kayes region). The flow of seasonal migration, which had slowed with the start-up of the government’s pastoral assistance program, has speeded up again, though with less intensity than at the beginning of the year. Monthly wages for pastoral workers, which had been around 20,000 MRO, currently range from 10,000 to 15,000 MRO. Many pastoralists have chosen not to hire outside labor, resorting to family labor to cut down on their expenses. Sales of livestock are up sharply. Poor households have already sold an estimated three fifths (versus a third) of their herd, which generally consists of seven to ten head of livestock, and are not planning on selling any more animals for fear of exceeding the herd rebuilding threshold. Though grain prices have more or less stabilized, terms of trade for livestock/grain are increasingly detrimental to households selling livestock. A household able to buy 166.6 kg of millet with the sale of a sheep at the best price last year can currently afford only 52.6 kg of millet, roughly 67 percent less than last year.

    Since March, coping strategies have revolved around changes in diet (involving the consumption of wheat and food pastes) and cutbacks in the number (to two instead of the usual three) and size of meals. Typically, this strategy is employed only between June and August. The smooth operation of social networks is allowing poor households to borrow food or share meals with friends and relatives, given their extremely limited access to government-subsidized s “solidarity program” shops at long distances from these worst-off areas, indicating that the combination of these household coping strategies and the spin-off effects of assistance programs will help stabilize conditions. However, the food security situation is tenuous at best and will not be able to withstand a delay or disruption in the start of the rainy season, a massive new influx of refugees, a shutdown of current assistance programs for the refugee population and poor local households, or new price shocks affecting wheat, rice, millet, and sorghum crops. Should any of these circumstances materialize, though markets may still be well-stocked, poor households will run out of funds and safe coping strategies affording them access to these supplies, which could downgrade food security conditions from what is currently IPC Phase 3 (crisis) to IPC Phase 4 (emergency) all across the eastern reaches of livelihood zone 6 (rainfed farming areas) between July and September.

    Livelihood zone 5 (agropastoral areas)

    Crop production in lowland and dam areas met only one to two months worth of food needs for poor households, compared with the usual five to six months coverage in an average year.  As a result, these households are dependent on market-buying to meet their food needs. Grain prices have been stable since January of this year, but are up across-the-board from the same time last year (by anywhere from 40 to 60 percent depending on the area in question), with more remote areas reporting the steepest price increases. For example, the price of a “moud” (a unit of measurement equal to 4 kg) of sorghum has gone up to 950 MRO since April of last year, a 37 percent increase, while shipping costs between market centers and rural grain-consuming areas rose by 20 percent over the same period. The central part of this livelihood zone, which is more isolated than the north served by the main artery linking Nouakchott to Nema, is reporting the steepest rise in prices. Thus, a sack of wheat and a sack of rice, for example, cost nearly 50 percent and 14 percent more on markets in the central reaches of this livelihood zone. However, assistance programs run by international NGOs for targeted poor households in the central reaches of this area are helping to ease the effects of these trends and their implications from an economic (income-generating activities), food security (village shops), and nutritional (community feeding centers and distributions of food rations) standpoint.

    There are reports of poor seed access in all agropastoral areas, but local households depend on buying seeds in the absence of seed aid. The already high unit prices of sorghum and cowpeas suggest that poor households will face hardships during the planting period (for rainfed crops) in three months time and for flood-recession crops in seven months.

    Shortages of pasture have severely weakened conditions in pastoral areas, but the departure of most livestock (over 80 percent of livestock in the western reaches of this area) for seasonal grazing lands in Mali and the southern part of the country (between Kaédi and Sélibaby) in February/March has eased pressure on local pasture availability. Normally, seasonal migration routes are spread over a larger area extending all along the border between the two countries (a distance of approximately 700 km).  Thus, water access problems in this part of the area are less pressing than usual, even in the northwestern reaches of the livelihood zone. Poor and middle-income agropastoral households forced to sell more livestock in order to feed their sedentary animal herds (consisting mainly of sheep and goats) are especially affected. They are resorting to borrowing in addition to buying feed from traders and through social assistance mechanisms under the EMEL program. According to Livestock Bureau officials, unseasonable rains have caused large losses, particularly of sheep, the main type of livestock owned by poor and middle-income households in the northwestern reaches of this agropastoral livelihood zone. 

    Livestock prices in the western part of the area are 40 to 60 percent lower than last year, creating unfavorable terms of trade for households selling livestock. In contrast, the price of bull calves is down by only 25 percent in the northern part of the area, where purchasing power is better than in the south. Wages rates for farm labor (3000 MRO per day with no meals) are unchanged, but there are not enough employment opportunities for members of poor households, which revolve mainly around farming activities which are at a standstill at this time of year, pending the beginning of the rains in June. On the other hand, wages rates for pastoral workers are down by 10 to 15 percent due to the small numbers of animals left to tend with most livestock ensconced in seasonal grazing areas since February/March. At present, this source of income is severely curtailed in the central part of the livelihood zone due to seasonal migration but is still significant in the north, where internal migration and the large workforce required to tend sedentary herds are creating job opportunities. Many poor households send two or three of their children off to tend livestock herds for wages ranging from 20,000 to 25,000 MRO. The pastoral crisis has not changed this practice, with accompanying household members providing extra labor. Normally, these household members do not tend animals, devoting themselves to other income-generating activities like livestock trading, small-scale trade, etc.

    As in the case of rainfed farming areas, coping strategies in this livelihood zone revolve around changes in diet (involving the consumption of wheat and pasta) and cutbacks in the number (to one or two instead of the usual three) and size of meals (by 30 to 50 percent). Poor households are able to borrow food and/or share meals with friends and relatives through the operation of social networks. In spite of the opening of more government-subsidized “solidarity program” shops, access to these shops is extremely limited due to their long distances from rural areas and the lack of a credit system.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Timeline of Critical Events

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Timeline of Critical Events

    Source: FEWS NET

    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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