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Improved food conditions in all livelihood zones

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Mauritania
  • September 2012
Improved food conditions in all livelihood zones

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  • Key Messages
  • Updated food security outlook through September 2012
  • Key Messages
    • Increased rainfall in August improved cropping and livestock conditions. In all livelihood zones, except for in irrigated areas, this resulted in more land being planted than was predicted by the government. Given the favorable conditions, good rainfed crop production is expected at levels that equal or exceed the five-year average. The outlook for other crop production depends largely on the availability of agricultural labor, seeds, and continuation of the rainy season into October.

    • The July 2012 nutritional survey conducted by UNICEF, the National Statistics Office, and the Ministry of Health showed that the nutritional situation ranges from precarious to critical depending on the zone. At a national level, the global acute malnutrition rate is 12.1 percent. This is a slight increase over the July 2011 survey (10.7 percent) but is substantially lower than in July 2009 (13.1 percent), which is considered to be the most recent food crisis year.

    • Aid programs currently underway will continue to improve household food access until December. Food insecurity is generally decreasing everywhere compared to July and August. Between October and December, the IPC Phase 2: Stress levels of food security will transition to Minimal/None food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) in most of the country, except in the southeast where food security stress (IPC Phase 2) will continue. 

    Updated food security outlook through September 2012

    Agricultural Production

    Well-distributed and well-timed rains during the last two dekads of August improved farming conditions in agricultural areas throughout the country. The area planted in rainfed crops is estimated to be substantially greater than the five-year average (about 154,300 ha) in all areas where rainfed crops are grown. The planting of short-cycle cereals (sorghum and millet) is less extensive than usual. After early-season hesitation caused by the 2011 crop losses and the failure of the first plantings in 2012, farmers are focusing more on long-cycle sorghum crops. These crops are normally harvested between October and December and are judged to be more substantial than normal this year. Crop development is satisfactory. Long-cycle crops are in growth stages ranging from emergence to tillering, and early crops are at stages ranging from bolting to heading. The other rainfed crops (cowpeas, watermelons, and groundnuts) are at the flowering stage.

    Seed access for rainfed crops was provided partly through donations from FAO (460 MT for rainfed crops and 100 MT for flood-recession crops), supplemented by a contribution from the government and some NGOs in July/August. The late arrival of seeds in some rainfed cropping areas only affected early crops. This will result in an extension of the lean season beyond September but by no more than one month, especially since wild fonio is already ripe and can be gathered by poor families. Good rainfall, at least at the end of September and into October, would mean that larger areas could be used for certain types of farming (lowland, dam, and flood recession) than predicted by the government at the beginning of the season. Reservoirs in the agropastoral area, the northern part of the rainfed crop area, and the pastoral oases with wadis are filled to between 70 and 100 percent of capacity. Informal estimates by the technical agricultural services indicate that the walo (flood level) is cresting at its highest level in the past five years. This is even higher than in 2006/2007 (when 34,961 ha were planted), which was considered to be a record year according to results published by the government. Therefore, the area potentially available for flood-recession crops this season is significant.

    In Brakna and Gorgol, the start of the irrigated crop season in the river valley was delayed by problems with agricultural credit access. Unlike in 2011, the government did not place a moratorium on the Crédit Agricole for the benefit of indebted farmers. Farmers who managed to pay off at least 90 percent of their payments were unable to begin work until late August, whereas the planting (or transplanting) season extends from mid-May at the earliest to mid-August at the latest. Only in Trarza were the majority of farmers able to plant  a total of 18,500 ha. The Ministry of Rural Development’s regional offices maintain that sufficient amounts of fertilizer are available for the targeted objectives (35,000 ha). Operators who are able to get credit at the Crédit Agricole can seek authorization to obtain fertilizer from SONIMEX (the National Import/Export Company) on a prorated area basis, as determined by the Ministry of Rural Development’s technical services. Many farmers have complained about the cumbersome procedure, which affects the planting and growing schedule. To remedy this situation, farmers have turned to short-cycle varieties of rice, which are not popular among households. As a result, it is unlikely that the government's objective of 35,000 ha, forecasted at the beginning of the season, will be met. Livestock conditions are good across most of the country. Many pastoralists have already returned, and there is very little use of animal feed. In agropastoral and rainfed crop areas, households of all income levels generally have daily milk access.

    Locust Activity

    The ecological conditions created by abundant rainfall in August favored the development of groups of individual locusts in some parts of eastern and central Mauritania. Breeding will continue on a small scale between September and October in the west and northwest. No treatments were reported in August, and as vegetation continues to dry out, estimates of how large an area will likely to be infested have been revised downward, with a minimum estimate of 30,000 ha. However, the continuation of favorable ecological conditions in northern Mali, which is inaccessible due to insecurity, may be cause for concern, especially if the cold-season rains reach the northern part of the country. For the moment, the CNLA (National Center for Locust Control) considers the situation to be under control.


    Consumer markets are still well supplied with imported cereals. However, a large drop in Malian exports of traditional cereals has been noted. This was caused by restrictions on Mauritanian exports to Mali. This interruption continues to have varying consequences for border markets and other markets that depend on them. Currently, food aid for refugees is being re-sold at border markets in the Bassikounou, Amourj, and Néma departments at prices significantly lower than market prices. For example, a 50-kg sack of food-aid rice is re-sold for 7,000 MRO on the Bassikounou market. This compares to 9,800 MRO for imported rice at the same market. In Néma, re-sold food aid rice is sold at 8,000 MRO versus 9,000 MRO for imported rice. The presence of less expensive foods on these markets has improved food access for the poor and very poor, and partially compensates for the negative effects that the cross-border trade restriction has had on the agropastoral zone’s markets, which depend on these flows for both consumption and seed.  The overall upward price trends for sorghum continued in August, with increases compared to July ranging from nearly 12 percent (in the agropastoral zone) down to 2.5 percent in the river valley (Boghé). Although such increases are typical during this season, prices have rarely climbed to this level, and the increase is affecting all sorghum crop zones across the country. Usually, the increases are a function of when different farming methods are being used.

    The high demand for seed in flood-recession areas means that in some cropping zones (the river valley and agropastoral areas where large flooded areas will probably be cultivated) prices have climbed steeply compared to the beginning of the farming season in June. Wheat prices are falling in the river valley (a 16 percent drop from July to August on the Boghé market), where the hot off-season rice harvests are underway. Prices dropped in this case because, as usual, poor households received local rice as in-kind payment for casual labor, and no longer needed to consume wheat during this time. In contrast, in the rainfed crop zone, wheat prices are rising slightly because of demand from poor households who are consuming wheat in place of sorghum and millet, which have become unaffordable.

    In some areas, the effects of rising animal prices have been diminished by the rise in staple food prices (rice and sorghum). Animal prices have a varying effect on terms of trade, depending on the zone and the specific cereal. In the Senegal River valley (Boghé market), only the price of wheat dropped noticeably compared to July (-16 percent); for this reason, the terms of trade for sheep/wheat are favorable to the livestock farmer (+5.75 percent), whereas price increases for the other cereals are not favorable to livestock farmers. As poor households often resort to wheat, an average sheep is worth 187 kg of wheat compared to 177 kg in July. In the rainfed crop zone (Abdel Bagrou market), livestock and food prices generally increased from July to August. The price of an average sheep rose (+ 8.5 percent), and cereal prices also increased from the previous month: wheat (+5.8 percent), sorghum (+4.15 percent), and imported rice (+5.57 percent). Despite the upward trend in livestock prices, the terms of trade for sheep/wheat declined in August compared to July (-7.14 percent), to the detriment of livestock farmers. In contrast, the terms of trade for sheep/sorghum and sheep/rice remained favorable to livestock sellers, at +5.08 percent and +3.07 percent, respectively. At the Magta lahjar market in the agropastoral zone, the price of an average sheep rose (+15.62 percent) in August, while the price of wheat remained unchanged during the same period. The terms of trade for sheep/wheat (+15 percent) were favorable to livestock sellers compared to July, as were the terms of trade for sheep/rice.

    Health and Nutrition

    Preliminary results from the biannual nutritional survey conducted in July 2012 by UNICEF, the National Statistics Office, and the Ministry of Health, put the national rate of global acute malnutrition at 12.1 percent, slightly higher than in the July 2011 survey (10.7 percent). Four regions exceeded the emergency threshold for global acute malnutrition (>15 percent): Hodh Chargui (16.2 percent), Assaba (16.4 percent), Brakna (17.1 percent), and Tagant (18.2 percent). Guidimakha also nearly reached it at 14.5 percent. These rates are within seasonal norms and should decrease as the season changes and due to current aid programs, livestock improvements (milk), the use of ecological resources (especially the gathering of leaves), and crops (the harvest of hot off-season crops in August and the harvest of early sorghum in September).

    Humanitarian Aid

    The aid programs currently in place (cash transfers, replenishing of village-level food safety reserves, free food distributions, and subsidized shops) will continue until December in all administrative areas. These programs will benefit at least as many households as before and perhaps more, and will address the same issues. Malian refugees (about 108,000 according to UNHCR) continue to receive relatively sufficient food assistance. A decrease in the number of refugees is expected, since a biometric registration is now underway which should eliminate duplications and will improve the availability of food for the real refugees. However, Malian refugees continue to arrive in the southeastern part of the rainfed cropping area (Fassala Néré district) and will be a destabilizing factor for local poor households if current aid programs intended for them are not sufficient between October and December.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and 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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