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Minimal food insecurity in most rural areas

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Mauritania
  • April - September 2013
Minimal food insecurity in most rural areas

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  • Key Messages
  • Nationwide Overview
  • Areas of Concern
  • Events that Could Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • Though poor households in most parts of the country have depleted their household cereal stocks, smooth trade flows (domestic, cross-border, and imports) should ensure good nationwide and region-wide food availability, at least through the end of June. Thus, there should not be any visible deterioration in household food security between April and June (Figures 1 and 2).   

    • Good pastoral conditions, favorable terms of trade for livestock/cereal, and access to expected average levels of income from farm labor as of June will keep food insecurity at IPC Phase 1 Minimal for most poor households through the end of September (Figure 3).

    • However, poor households in southeastern rainfed agriculture zone (Bassikounou department) and, to a lesser extent, in northwestern agro-dominant agropastoral zone (Aleg department) and northern areas suffering from a protracted drought since last year will remain in IPC Phase 2 Stress between April and June.

    • Growing security problems in northwestern Mali, unleashing a new wave of refugees and limiting the usual flow of food and income to poor Mauritanian households from short-term seasonal labor migration, is creating IPC Phase 2 Stress levels of food insecurity for local and refugee households alike, currently maintained by humanitarian assistance. Any disruption in these assistance programs could weaken conditions between April and June, further heightening food insecurity levels. 

    Nationwide Overview
    Current Situation

    Though poorer than expected due to damage from stalk borers and cereal-eating birds, harvests of flood-recession crops (sorghum, maize, and cowpeas) are better than last year and relatively close to the five-year average. With no means of offsetting reported shortfalls in crop and animal production in October of last year or expected shortfalls in March of this year in mixed pastoral and oasis areas (livelihood zone 2), southeastern rainfed agriculture areas (livelihood zone 6), and northwestern agropastoral areas (livelihood zone 5), the food security situation of poor households in these latter areas is still classified as in Stress (IPC Phase 2). However, construction work on the new road between Adrar and Tagant (monthly wages) and related informal business activities (cheap eateries, small-scale trading, laundry services, etc.) in the southern reaches of livelihood zone 2 are beginning to improve the purchasing power of poor households. However, at present, it is difficult to determine the real impact of this new source of income whose pursuit is detrimental to oasis farming activities (market gardening, date harvesting, and lowland farming activities), given the small supply of local labor (limiting the ability of area households to simultaneously engage in both activities) and the low skill level of local workers restricting them to jobs requiring physical labor.

    Pastoral conditions at the nationwide level are good. Even with the pasture deficit in the north, there should be an adequate nationwide supply of pasture through the end of June. Thus far, the rehabilitation of fire-breaks in most pastoral areas has contained any brush fires. There is a normal pattern of internal migration by transhumant herds, though the usual flow of seasonal migration to Mali and Senegal is still very limited.

    With the harvest of irrigated winter crops in practically all crop-producing areas over since February, the growing season for hot off-season crops has kicked off in the western reaches of the river valley (southern Trarza and western Brakna), providing poor households with new opportunities for the generation of what should be near-average levels of seasonal income.

    The pick-up in cross-border trade temporarily restricted by conflict in Mali and by Mauritanian importers is currently keeping markets well-stocked with cereal crops and imported cereals (rice and wheat). Weekly markets are, once again, functioning normally. Cereal prices on most rural markets, which were relatively stable through the end of January, are up by close to five percent since February. The steepest price increases are in northwestern agropastoral areas, where prices on the Magta Lahajr market have jumped by approximately six percent. The extended operation of boutiques de solidarité (government-subsidized shops) and SAVS programs (village-level food security stocks) should slow this upward trend in prices, which is normal for the period between March and August of each year.

    Prices for livestock are up in all parts of the country (by 11.5 percent in rainfed agriculture areas, 20.5 percent in oasis areas, and 10.4 percent in agropastoral areas). Thus, in spite of the rise in cereal prices, terms of trade for livestock/cereal are still in favor of pastoral households. This normal seasonal trend in terms of trade has been accentuated by livestock purchases made large-scale pastoralists who sold off animals last year to cope with the pastoral crisis and are now looking to rebuild their herds. In this new round of buying, prices for allegedly hardier Moorish species posted the largest gains.


    The most likely nationwide food security scenario for the period from April through September 2013 is based on the following general assumptions:

    Food availability:

    • Household stocks that normally meet household needs through May/June, limiting the lean season to the months of June, July, and August, will be depleted between April and August of this year.
    • SAVS programs (village-level food security stocks) and government-subsidized boutiques de solidarité (BS) will be strengthened and extended through the end of June. FEWS NET is not expecting any external or special humanitarian assistance.
    • Food supplies from migrant farm work in Mali (threshing, transporting, winnowing, and storing crops) or other types of short-term seasonal labor migration between April and June will be affected by the crisis in Mali.
    • There will be a sharp drop in the farm income of poor households in the southeastern rainfed agriculture zone during this period.

    Market performance and price trends:

    • There will be regular, adequate market supplies throughout the outlook period, with a normal flow of domestic and cross-border trade.
    • Livestock prices will steadily increase between now and September, maintaining favorable household terms of trade in spite of increased staple food prices.
    • There will be another 10 percent hike in oil prices between April and September along the lines of the 10 percent rise in prices between January and June, driving up staple food prices by 10 to 20 percent.


    • Seasonal income from short-term seasonal labor migration to Mali and seasonal income-generating activities will be less than typical.

    Coping strategies:

    • In general, there will be less reliance than usual on loans of food and/or cash for the purchasing of food supplies with the lean season in all farming areas cut short by the good harvests and large streams of income from farm labor between October of last year and March of this year.

    Upcoming growing season:

    • There will be a normal rainy season (beginning in June/July and ending in October/November), with ensuing farming activities generating average amounts of income for poor households and producing an average cereal harvest.
    • Pastoral conditions, which are still good in most parts of the country, will be strengthened by the normal levels of rainfall in all farming and pastoral areas between July and September. Pastoralists in northern and northwestern agropastoral areas will no longer rely on animal feed. Poor households will earn larger amounts of seasonal income from farm labor between June and September in all areas, including oasis areas where the employment of members of poor households in construction jobs on the new road between Adrar and Tagant has created a more regular alternative source of income to income from-farm employment.
    • With the new influx of refugees, there will be a greater need for humanitarian assistance for refugees and host populations between April and September of this year. Additional needs over and above current requirements based on a population of 54,115 refugees will depend on the impact of the military campaign in northern Mali.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    Food security will deteriorate slightly between April and early June, which should not affect the classification assigned in January. Households especially hard hit by crop and animal production shortfalls (in northwestern agropastoral and mixed pastoral and oasis areas) and/or by conflicts (in the southeastern rainfed agriculture zone) will be able to implement livelihood and coping strategies, bolstered by favorable terms of trade and social assistance programs by the government (SAVS, BS), keeping them in the “Stressed” phase (Phase 2, IPC 2.0). In most cases, this level of structural food insecurity in nomadic pastoral areas can be managed through the seasonal migratory movements of transhumant pastoralists, who begin leaving these areas in March.

    From late July to September, with the normal start of the rainy season and the timely provision of farmers with farm credit (previously reserved exclusively for rice farmers), inputs, and seeds (in May/June), ensuing farming activities should generate near-normal levels of income for poor households. Food security will be further bolstered by the improvement in pastoral conditions, especially since there is no reason to expect any market disruptions or breakdowns in nationwide supply channels for staple foods. Thus, poor households in rural areas will eventually experience only “Minimal” levels of food insecurity between July and September (Figure 3). However, according to the findings by the FSN survey by the WFP and CSA (the Food Security Commission) in December 2012, there are still some factors keeping an estimated 225,000 residents of peri-urban areas in the “Stressed” phase. 

    Areas of Concern

    Southeastern rainfed farming areas (livelihood zone 6)

    Current situation

    With the depletion of family stocks of cereal from yearly harvests and migrant farm work, poor households have been completely dependent on food supplies purchased on local and weekly markets since February. These latter markets are stocked with Malian exports and surplus crops from other parts of the area, where cereal output for this year is 30 to 40 percent above the five-year average. The steady climb in the price of sorghum, the main cereal crop consumed by poor households, since last December (7.72 percent), steepened from 7.69 percent between December and January to 8.5 percent between January and February.

    Livestock prices are moving steadily upwards in spite of a few short-lived weekly drops in price in line with fluctuations in supply, maintaining favorable household terms of trade, even with the rise in staple food prices (121.5 kg of sorghum for the sale of an average sheep in December, compared with 125 kg in February and 140.8 kg in March). This is tempering the effects of the reduction in seasonal migration income during the slack season between March and June by approximately 80 percent with many Mauritanians deciding against migration to Mali, their normal main destination during the slack season, out of fear of reprisals.

    Pastoral conditions throughout the area are still good, but are beginning to deteriorate due to the presence of the livestock herds of the refugee population. The improvement in milk availability was not as large as expected, with unusually low birth rates prompting pastoralists to let new-born lambs and calves suckle their mothers’ milk to grow strong enough to withstand the hazards of the lean season in pastoral areas (April through June).

    The new influx of refugees has increased pressure on seasonal activities (sales of wood, inter-zone transportation service by mule-drawn carts, small-scale trading, etc.) and limited the income generated by local households from these activities.  This will heighten the “Minimal” levels of food insecurity (Phase 1, IPC 2.0) prevalent in this area up until the end of March to “Stressed” levels (Phase 2) between now and the end of June.


    The most likely local food security scenario for the period from April through September 2013 described below is based on the following general assumptions:

    • Markets will continue to be regularly stocked with imports of the most popular foodstuffs in this area (rice, wheat, sugar, tea, and oil).
    • The lean season began earlier than usual and there will be a sharp drop in household income normally serving as a source of market access.
    • There will be less short-term seasonal labor migration to Mali than usual, which is normally the main destination for the local workforce during the lean season.
    • There will be a normal rainy season, with average earnings by poor households from on-farm labor.
    • The impact of the Malian crisis on local populations will create more demand for assistance.
    • Pastoral conditions will begin to deteriorate sooner than usual with the presence of the large herds of refugees.
    • The government will extend the operations of its subsidized boutiques de solidarité selling foodstuffs at prices 20 to 40 percent below market prices.
    • Pastoral households will benefit from favorable terms of trade for livestock/cereal through the end of September.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    The depletion of family stocks of cereal will heighten the “Minimal” (Phase 1, IPC 2.0 ) levels of food insecurity experienced by poor households in this area up until the end of March to the “Stressed” phase (Phase 2, IPC 2.0) between April and June, marked by erratic access to a regular adequate supply of food. In fact, in spite of the adequate diversified supply of local crops and imported foods on markets across the country, poor households faced with a sharp drop in seasonal income from labor migration to Mali, which has become problematic, will not have regular access to commercially marketed foodstuffs. The favorable terms of trade for livestock/cereal may temper this problem to some extent, but will benefit mainly middle-income and better-off households. Poor households, on the other hand, have very few animals to sell and, with the protracted lean season since last year, have just about reached their sales limit and will be unable to make any further sales without risking damage to their livelihoods. The only expected ongoing forms of government assistance are SAVS programs (village-level food security stocks) and government subsidized boutiques de solidarité (BS), both of which require a certain purchasing power.  The normal start of the rainy season and the expected normal pick-up in farming and pastoral activities between July and September should bring food insecurity back down to the “Minimal” levels typical of an average season (Figure 3).

    Mixed pastoral and oasis areas (livelihood zone 2)

    Current situation

    Flood-recession crops, which normally meet the cereal needs of poor households for approximately three months, lasted for 10 to 15 days at most. With many wadi beds remaining dry except for a single flooding event filling them with surface runoff and, in most cases, producing very small flows, there is very little water available for human and animal populations in these areas and poor farming conditions for cereal, market garden, and date crops. Harvests of hot off-season market garden crops are well below-average. There is virtually no pasture available anywhere in the area and livestock are being maintained mainly with animal feed, while the pastoral assistance program expected since February has still not started up. Livestock prices are up from January and February and above the seasonal average, but market supplies are still low, in contrast to normal seasonal trends in a poor year when pastoralists thin their herds to limit losses and to purchase feed.

    Markets are well-stocked with food supplies (rice, wheat, oil, and sugar) and prices (on the Aoujeft market in Adrar and the Zouerate market in Tiris Zemmour) are stable. With the start-up of construction work on the new road between Adrar and Tagant, many members of poor households have been hired as laborers, for which they are being paid monthly wages. The lack of data on the number of workers hired compared with the size of the local workforce and on their wages makes it difficult to determine the real impact of an activity whose pursuit is affecting other activities (oasis farming, market gardening, palm tree maintenance, pastoral activities, etc.) traditionally serving as the basic sources of food and income for poor households in this area by diverting labor from these activities.  FEWS NET believes that, at most, this new resource will complement the two ongoing government assistance programs (SAVS and BS) and the pastoral assistance program.


    The most likely local food security scenario for the period from April through September 2013 described below is based on the following general assumptions:

    • Markets will continue to function normally throughout the outlook period, with a regular supply of substitute cereals and staple foods, as traders adjust their imports to meet consumer demand.
    • The growing season for hot off-season market garden crops (April through June) will be poor to mediocre.
    • The lower levels of income from farming activities (market gardening, lowland farming, date growing) between April and June will normalize between June and September. There will be less short-term seasonal labor migration, but wage income from work on the road will fill the resulting gap. The types (goats and a few sheep) and small size (a dozen or so head of stock) of livestock herds will limit livestock sales by poor households throughout the outlook period.
    • With the lack of pasture, the lean season in pastoral areas will extend through the end of June.
    • Milk production will be minimal from April to June, which plays a major role in the food security of poor households.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    Poor households unable to meet their food needs will experience “Stressed” levels of food insecurity (Phase 2, IPC 2.0) between April and June. Between July and September, the normal start of the rainy season should visibly improve water availability and help promote new pasture growth, which will sharply reduce reliance on the purchasing of animal feed. This should improve livestock prices and the availability of milk, an essential mainstay of the diet of poor households in this area. Financial spin-offs from road construction work, particularly in the southern part of the area, and from SNIM (the national mining company) operations in the north should help bolster this improvement and reduce the food insecurity of poor households to “Minimal” levels (Phase 1, IPC 2.0) between July and September. 

    Events that Could Change the Outlook



    Impacts on food security conditions



    Increases in international market prices for substitute cereals (wheat and rice)Low market supplies in Nouakchott and difficulties provisioning rural markets; sharp rise in the prices of these cereal crops, affecting cereal access.


    Protracted disruption in the flow of cross-border trade provisioning different parts of the country via the river valley and livelihood zone 6 (rainfed agriculture)


    A disruption in this trade would cause food prices to spike and reverse current favorable trends in household terms of trade.


    Resolution of the Mali crisis or, at the very least, sharp drop in civil insecurity

    Resumption of short-term seasonal labor migration, increasing household income and visibly improving household access to commercially marketed foodstuffs

    Livelihood zone 2 (mixed pastoral and oasis areas)

    Breakdown in supply channels for animal feed

    Pastoralists in this extremely remote area (300 to 1,100 kilometers from Nouakchott), would be greatly impacted, potentially losing significant proportion of their herds.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, April 2013

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, April 2013

    Source: FEWS NET

    Livelihood zone map of Mauritania

    Figure 3

    Livelihood zone map of Mauritania

    Source: FEWS NET

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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