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Outlook October 2011-March 2012

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Mauritania
  • October 2011
Outlook October 2011-March 2012

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  • Key Messages
  • Most likely food security scenario for October 2011 through March 2012
  • Outlook beyond March 2012
  • Key Messages
    • The lean season, which should have ended in September, extended into October in most rural areas.

    • Rainfed grain production in agropastoral and rainfed farming areas is expected to be 50 percent below average. 

    • Disparities in pasture development have caused semi-sedentary pastoralists to begin their seasonal migration.  Seasonal migration does not normally start until March. 

    • The size of the food-insecure population by January 2012 is likely to be triple the January 2011 figure of 250,000. It will also be above the five-year average (586,000) and probably closer to figures for 2005/06, 2006/07, and the 2005/06-2009/10 average (approximately 700,000). Emergency assistance needs for 2012 will peak between April and August. Based on current assessments, the severity of acute food insecurity is not expected to exceed crisis levels (IPC Phase 3) for the 2011/12 consumption year.

    Most likely food security scenario for October 2011 through March 2012

    The first beneficial rains and widespread planting activities of 2011 began significantly later than usual. As a result, the lean season, which normally ends with the September harvest, extended into October. Moreover, the poor spatial-temporal distribution of rainfall, particularly in September, caused damage to crop growth and development such that the production of rain-fed crops is expected to be substantially below-average. The same rainfall conditions are also limiting new pasture growth, and there are already reports of seasonal migratory movements in the southern and eastern parts of the country. These movements normally do not begin until November/December in the case of nomadic populations, or until March in the case of semi-sedentary pastoralists. The level of the Senegal River is still relatively low (three meters below the seasonal average), and the short submersion period for lands planted with walo (flood-recession) crops will sharply reduce the output of these crops. The desert locust situation is stable and there have been no unusually large-scale epizootic outbreaks since July. Poor households, which make up approximately 60 percent of the population of rainfed farming and agropastoral areas, are most affected by these conditions. 

    Unfavorable conditions in transhumant pastoral areas and the Senegal River Valley could trigger food security deterioration in these areas.  In the transhumant pastoral areas, pasturelands are in poor condition for livestock-raising, while in the Senegal River Valley a short submersion period for croplands and the low level of the river have made farming conditions unfavorable.  However, at least 80 percent of the population of desert, coastal, and urban areas are in IPC Phase 1 (no or minimal acute food insecurity), in line with normal seasonal trends in an average year.

    The most likely nationwide food security scenario for October 2011 through March 2012 is based on the following general assumptions:

    • Rainfed crop production in rainfed farming and agropastoral areas will be 40 to 60 percent below-average.
    • Poor pastoral conditions will cause semi-sedentary pastoralists in agropastoral and transhumant pastoral areas to begin their seasonal migration, which normally begins in March, as early as October.
    • There will be an average demand for labor in the fishing industry, which will be large enough to absorb supply. At least 80 percent of the population of coastal areas and Nouadhibou, where poor households are dependent on the fishing industry, are expected to be in IPC Phase 1 (no or minimal acute food insecurity).
    • There will be an average demand for labor in large inland cities and Nouakchott. The presence of more highly skilled foreign workers from Senegal, Mali, Guinea, North Africa, and elsewhere, who are willing to work for lower wages, is expected to curtail the access of unskilled Mauritanian workers to urban employment opportunities.
    • Prices for imported rice, which have been moving steadily upward since July, will continue to rise until in or around December/January, and will eventually stabilize at levels approximately 20 percent above this past year. Increases in the international market price of rice drove prices for imported rice on the Nouakchott market up by approximately 20 percent between September and November (from 220 MRO/kg to approximately 270 MRO/kg). Prices will eventually stabilize in line with normal seasonal trends.
    • Prices for sugar, wheat, milk, tea, and oil will show little change from their already high 2010/11 levels (for example, approximately 150 MRO/kg for wheat and 275 MRO/kg for sugar in Nouakchott).
    • These high price levels and price increases should not significantly affect the importing power of traders. The flow of supplies and trade in these commodities should remain close to average and should suffice to meet domestic demand.
    • Due to the poor sorghum and millet harvests in Mali and Senegal, prices for imported coarse grains will be higher than this past year’s low prices by approximately 25 percent for the entire consumption year.
    • Poor households in rainfed farming and agropastoral areas will not have a supply of seeds on hand for the next growing season. This is not a new negative livelihood strategy, but rather is the case in about eight out of every ten years.
    • Fuel prices on the world market and in Mauritania should stay relatively stable throughout the outlook period. As a result, trends in these prices should not affect food prices any more than usual.
    • Traders and certain middle-income and better-off households should have large carry-over inventories from the region’s record 2010/11 grain harvest.
    • Except in a few agropastoral areas and the River Valley, there will be a growing demand for small animals, which will peak in October, just prior to the Feast of Tabaski.  Demand should stay high through the year-end holiday season. With sales of small animals representing an important source of income for middle-income and better-off households at this time of year, there should be a seasonal surge in pastoral employment (between October and December) on livestock markets.
    • The “Opération Solidarité” program, with its government-subsidized food shops and subsidized sales of animal feed, will run through March.
    • The upcoming 2012 elections will not have a major effect on market conditions or food security.

    In general, the highest-risk groups for food insecurity between now and March of next year are populations which purchase a large part of their food supply and those which are especially dependent on crop production and demand for farm labor, local pasturelands, and supplies of wild plant products. For the most part, these groups are poor households in rainfed farming and agropastoral areas. The grain reserves (from harvests of rainfed and lowland crops) and miscellaneous sources of income of these households should enable them to meet their basic food needs between now and next March. However, they will still face livelihood protection deficits as of January (Figures 3 and 4).

    Rainfed farming areas

    The great majority (80 percent) of the population of these areas is completely dependent on rainfed (diéri) crops harvested in September and October. Poor households make up 60 percent of the local population. On-farm production typically accounts for 35 percent of their annual grain consumption between October and January and approximately 18 percent of their income is generated by crop sales between October and December (primarily through sales of pulses).  On-farm employment (between June and December locally, and between January and June in Mali) provides approximately 20 percent of their annual income. The remainder of their annual consumption needs (approximately 15 percent) is met by wild plant foods (wild fonio, the fruits of jujube and balanite trees in September/October, and the fruit of the monkey-bread tree in December/January) and gifts provided by community assistance networks or made in fulfillment of religious obligations (a practice known as zakat). In a typical year, food purchases on local markets are as important as household reserves from on-farm production earmarked for human consumption. Other household sources of income are labor migration (which typically generates 20 percent of annual income between January and June), sales of wood and wild plant foods (accounting for 15 percent of annual income), and sales of one or two small animals between May and July (which account for 5 percent of annual income). This group of households is extremely market-dependent and, thus, vulnerable to  price increases, particularly for sorghum and wheat, and especially for sorghum from Mali, which accounts for most market supplies in these areas, especially between March and August. They are also extremely vulnerable to declines in demand for local farm labor, income from crop sales, and supplies of wild plant products. Approximately 20 percent of the total population of these areas benefits directly or indirectly from December harvests of rainfed lowland crops (particularly in Mali). Normally, these households have a relatively lower risk of food insecurity compared with that of other population groups.

    Because of the delayed onset of the rainy season and delayed implementation of widespread planting activities, the first harvests of the season did not get underway until October, instead of in September, as is normally the case. This prolonged the dependence of local households on the market by a full month, while markets posted 10 to 40 percent price increases for imported foodstuffs. Moreover, this year’s erratic rainfall activity and large rainfall deficits resulted in poor crop growth and development, poor pasture development, and limited supplies of wild plant products.

    Though strong demand stimulated by the upcoming Feast of Tabaski (in November) will result in high prices for livestock, this is not a market that typically benefits the poor, whose herd size was in early October this year estimated at four head of stock, down from approximately seven head in 2005. This decline in herd size is a product of the combined effects of the excessive sales of animals in 2007 due to the poor harvest, the 2008 food price crisis, and the low livestock reproduction rates in 2010 and 2011 due to epizootic outbreaks and their induced effects. The shocks affecting diéri crop production triggered earlier than usual labor migration, beginning in October instead of in April, as is normally the case. This premature out-migration is a sign that poor households are already in IPC Phase 2 (stressed).

    In addition to expected shortfalls in crop production and the other assumptions outlined above:

    • Camel prices are expected to stay high all year due to a shift from beef consumption to the consumption of camel meat; cattlemen are already en route to seasonal grazing lands.
    • There should be an average demand for harvesting and threshing labor for flood-recession crops in Mali (in and around the Yélimané area) in January/February.
    • As of February, the strengthening of community assistance networks in certain rural areas will include the sharing of meals, which will ensure that the poorest households get at least one meal a day and help to narrow their food gap.

    Middle-income and better-off households will offset shortfalls in their harvests of rainfed crops through purchasing funded by sales of more animals than usual. This strategy focuses mainly on the sale of male sheep and cattle, which are most vulnerable to pasture deficits and are the most expensive animals to maintain. However, such sales may also be expanded to include female animals when livestock markets become saturated, as they are easier to sell and bring in much more income than males. Normally, these households use practically no animal feed, with local pasturelands providing enough fodder for their animals. However, this year, they will be sending as many animals as possible off to seasonal grazing lands as of January and buying enough feed to sustain those remaining behind for the last six months of the year. The resulting increase in their expenses will necessitate their making small cuts in their gift-giving.

    For poor households, the approximate 50 percent shortfall in crop production translates into a need to increase purchasing by an equivalent amount (boosting the share of this annual food source from 35 percent to around 55 to 60 percent). At the same time, food prices are expected to be approximately 25 percent higher than last year, particularly beginning as of December. Therefore, they will need to boost household spending by at least 113 percent in order to fill this gap.

    As a result, there will be an above-average supply of local labor from these households, at lower wage rates. The expected intensification in labor migration should significantly augment their annual migration income through the longer than usual migration period (beginning in October instead of December/January as is normally the case) and the larger numbers of migrants involved, including women and children. These two strategies will be supplemented by sales of livestock. These households normally sell two or three small animals between April and July. This year, they are expected to sell the same number of animals from their smaller than usual herds (of four rather than seven animals) beginning in March, at more or less average prices.

    These earlier than usual sales of small animals and migratory movements, including migration by entire households beginning in October, point to a livelihood protection deficit between October and March. It is unlikely that accrued inputs from sales, labor migration (food and income), and community assistance networks, as well as from anticipated programs by the government and its partners will suffice to fill expected food gaps after the end of March.

    Agropastoral areas

    Poor households make up 60 percent of the population of these areas. In a normal year, approximately 35 percent of their annual food needs are met by purchasing, particularly between January/February and August.  Crop production and loans against future harvests or future demand for farm labor account for 30 and 20 percent, respectively, of their annual food supply. Approximately 20 percent of their annual income comes from crop sales from on-farm production. Another 40 percent of their annual income is from labor migration. The share of other sources of food and income, namely milk and meat consumption, sales of animals, gifts, small businesses, and the gathering of wild plant products, is comparatively minor (less than 10 percent in each case for the year).

    The outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in the north and an unidentified epizootic outbreak in agropastoral and transhumant pastoral areas in 2010/11 translated into slightly elevated mortality rates. They also weakened reproductive performance (particularly by sheep and goats) and reduced milk availability (which accounts for 5 percent of annual food consumption, mainly between August and October). This year’s poor temporal distribution of rainfall also affected crop and pasture development, delaying harvests of green crops, necessitating the consumption of wild plant foods, and sharply reducing the size of the September harvest, thereby extending the lean season, which normally ends by August/September, into October. There is already heavy pressure from transhumant herds arriving from livelihood zones 1 (nomadic pastoralists) and 2 (mixed pastoral and oases), which are not normally present in these areas until after the end of March.

    The unusual drop in prices for small animals just before the Feast of Tabaski early in November is attributable to the large supply of local and transhumant animals in these areas. Reported shipping problems between Senegal and Mauritania may also be weakening demand. The price of an average sheep is down to 13,000-15,000 MRO, from 19,000 MRO in September of this year and 16,000 MRO last September.

    Poor area households (which account for approximately 60 percent of the population) are currently in IPC Phase 2 (stressed), except in the west (which makes up around 20 percent of the area), where local pastoralists own camels rather than cattle and migrate eastwards to seasonal grazing lands in Mali instead of traveling south. This group of households presents a lower risk of food insecurity.

    The most likely food security scenario for this population group for October through March is based on the following assumptions:

    • October harvests of rainfed sorghum, watermelon, and cowpea crops will be approximately 50 percent below-average.
    • The size of the area planted in flood-recession crops (in lowland and dam areas) scheduled to be harvested in December is well below-average. Though crop yields are expected to be good, the smaller cropped area will sharply reduce the size of harvests of these crops. This type of crop production normally meets two to three months worth of food needs for the mostly middle-income and better-off households that have access to this type of land and who normally grow these crops. Poor households depend on these crops mainly as a source of wage income.
    • Better-off households will continue to employ farm hands from poor households, but middle-income households will be doing most of the work themselves. The resulting lower demand for labor for the harvest will put seasonal farm income, at best, 50 percent below-average.
    • Pasture and water resources, which normally suffice to meet the needs of semi-sedentary animals until April or May, will be depleted by December. Sedentary livestock will be sustained with animal feed purchased at higher prices than last year with income from sales of animals beginning as of December.
    • Given the high correlation between the granting of food loans and the progress of the agropastoral season, food loans to poor households are expected to drop by approximately 50 percent.

    Under these circumstances, poor households will need to offset shortfalls in their harvests and other losses by increasing food purchasing, whose share of their annual food supply is expected to increase from 35 percent to 55 percent. The combination of approximately 25 percent above-average grain prices and this increase in purchasing will require an increase of approximately 100 percent in food spending to meet household subsistence needs between October 2011 and September 2012.

    As in rainfed farming areas, poor households will intensify their labor migration in reaction to these shocks. In addition to extending their migration period (to eight or nine months instead of the normal six months), there will be at a minimum double the number of migrants looking for work. This should boost migration income by anywhere from 100 to 200 percent, putting its share of the total annual income of poor households at 60 percent. There is unlikely to be any substantial increase in income from other sources. Sales of more small animals, for example, are not expected to boost income, since with the shortage of pasture, there are likely to be more sales of livestock by middle-income and better-off households between January and March, in order to enable them to buy animal feed. Poor households will most likely be able to meet their subsistence and livelihood protection needs between October and December without having to resort to strategies stressing their livelihoods. As of January/February, with the seasonal absence of income-generating opportunities other than labor migration or small animal sales, poor households will begin to have unmet basic non-food needs, putting them in IPC Phase 2 (stressed).

    Outlook beyond March 2012

    The food security outlook for the period between March and the end of the consumption year, next September, is based mainly on the following assumptions:

    • On average, grain prices will be approximately 25 percent higher than this past year, peaking in July/August.
    • The price of animal feed will move steadily upwards beginning September of this year, peaking in July/August 2012, and is likely to be higher than its price of 7,000 MRO at the same time this year.
    • The 2012 rainy season and farming season should get off to a normal start between June and July.
    • In spite of the high price of seeds, poor households will have timely seed access, either through borrowing and/or through outside assistance (distributions of free seed aid).
    • The “Opération Solidarité” program and/or Ramadan shops will continue to operate through August of next year.
    • There will be a slight tightening of the supply of credit from middle-income and better-off households in rainfed farming areas to poor area households between March and June (which accounts for 10 percent of their food supply).
    • The government and the WFP will make targeted distributions of free food aid (between March and July). The volume of aid is expected to be larger than in 2010 and 2011, but will be insufficient to meet all food needs through September of next year.

    Between March/April and July, sources of household income will be less diversified than at any other time of year, and food prices will be on the rise, approaching peak levels. The livelihood deficits suffered since January will escalate into survival deficits. Global acute malnutrition rates in agropastoral and rainfed farming areas are likely to surpass emergency thresholds. Emergency aid needs will peak between April and August of next year in these areas and between March and June/July in transhumant pastoral areas. According to current assessments, the severity of acute food insecurity should not exceed crisis levels (IPC Phase 3). By January of this coming year, the size of the food-insecure population is likely to be triple this year’s figure of approximately 250,000 (as of January 2011), above the five-year average (586,000), and probably closer to figures for 2005/06, 2006/07 and the 2005/06-2009/10 average (approximately 700,000).

    Table 1. Possible events which could change the most likely food security scenario in the next six months 



    Effects on food security conditions


    No or limited cross-border grain and livestock trade with Mali and Senegal

    Low market supplies in Nouakchott; large losses of animals; reduction in migration income earned by members of poor households in the southern part of the country  who normally find work in the Niger River Delta area of Mali

    Sharp rebound in industrial activity, creating jobs

    More employment opportunities and improvement in income, particularly in peri-urban destination areas for migrant workers

    Targeted distributions of emergency food aid to at least 700,000 members of poor households at risk of acute food insecurity, primarily in rainfed farming and agropastoral areas

    Downward adjustment in projections of the expected severity of acute food insecurity from Phase 3 to Phase 2

    Agropastoral areas

    Large-scale desert locust infestation

    Destruction of flood recession crops (in lowland and dam areas) and  larger food gaps than projected in the most likely scenario

    Epizootic outbreak

    Larger losses of livestock than projected in the most likely scenario

    Cool off-season rains beginning in December

    Sprouting of fresh pasture in the northern reaches of these areas and better crop growth and development in lowland areas

    Rise in the price of livestock

    Improvement in terms of trade compared with October and less severe food insecurity than projected in the most likely outlook

    Rainfed farming areas

    Climate of uncertainty and restrictive measures

    Restrictions on the free movement of people and goods between Mauritania, Mali, and Senegal 

    Figures Seasonal calendar and timeline of critical events

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar and timeline of critical events

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. Current food security outcomes, October 2011

    Figure 2

    Figure 1. Current food security outcomes, October 2011

    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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