Skip to main content

Poor households in the central and southern areas will likely be in need of food assistance

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Mauritania
  • April - September 2015
Poor households in the central and southern areas will likely be in need of food assistance

Download the Report

  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Key Messages
    • With the large shortfall in annual cereal production and sharp decline in seasonal incomes, poor households in the central and southern reaches of the country have been experiencing food consumption and livelihood protection deficits since February. Very poor and poor households in especially hard hit central and southern agropastoral areas are expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3), if not higher levels, of food insecurity between April and the end of the lean season in September.

    • Pastoralists are selling atypically large numbers of animals in order to purchase food and animal feed, which is creating food consumption and livelihood protection deficits, particularly in the central reaches of the agropastoral zone. These populations will be facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or Crisis (IPC Phase 3) levels of food insecurity, depending on the specific area and time of year.

    • Barring an unforeseen shock to food or livestock markets and/or human mobility, households in other livelihood zones currently experiencing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity are expected to face, at worst, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity between April and September, driven by the effects of crop production deficits and shortfalls in seasonal income which are curtailing  food access.

    National Overview

    Current situation

    Farming: Estimates for the 2014 growing season released by the Ministry of Agriculture put total annual cereal production up by 10 percent from 2013 and 32 percent compared to the five-year average.

    However, a regional breakdown shows a large shortfall in rainfed crop production, mainly by poor households in the Assaba region (with the failure of crops in Barkéol and Kiffa departments) and the Gorgol and Brakna regions, where all rainfed farming areas were affected by the drought. Evidently, the increase in national crop production is due mainly to the reportedly good performance by the irrigated farming sector concentrated mainly in the river valley in the Trarza, Brakna, Gorgol, and Guidimakha regions energized by incentive measures (debt forgiveness, free supplies of fertilizer, timely provision of farm credit, etc.) implemented by the government.

    Yields of market garden crops in the river valley and oasis areas are close to 2013 estimates, but supplies of these crops normally found on local markets through the end of May are not expected to last beyond the end of April due to the limited availability of water this year.

    Pastoral activities: Pastoral conditions in many areas are unusually poor due to the lasting effects of the 2014 rainfall deficits. In addition, brush fires fueled by increasingly frequent strong winds are ravaging any remaining pockets of pastureland.

    Pastoralists have sold and culled large numbers of animals as a precaution against expected losses. The resulting surplus triggered a steady decline in livestock prices on certain markets such as Magta-Lahjar, where prices have been more or less stable since last month but are seven percent lower than at the same time last year. However, the shift in marketing strategy (from the sale of at-risk animals to the sale of lactating and healthy animals) has raised prices on other markets. For example, the average March price of a castrated sheep in Aoujeft was up by 25 percent from the previous month and 22 percent from last year. However, this only benefits middle-income and better-off households with enough healthy animals to sell to cover the cost of maintaining their remaining herds. Most poor households have already reached their maximum sales capacity.

    Since February, the use of animal feed which, up until January, had been confined to southern Tagant has spread to pastoral areas of Brakna, Gorgol, western Assaba, and northern Trarza where, under normal conditions, it is really needed only between April and June. Prices for all types of local and imported animal feed have been steadily rising since January. Current prices range from 7,500 to 8,5O0 MRO, compared with 3,800 to 6,000 MRO at this time in 2014. At this point, only camel herders are producing sizeable amounts of milk who, without any competition from cow milk, are selling a liter of fresh milk for 500 MRO, compared with 300 MRO at this time in 2013 (the last average year in this area). As yet, there are no reported epizootic outbreaks in any part of the country.

    The pastoral assistance program announced by the government has recently started up with the positioning of animal feed stocks at the end of March/beginning of April to be sold at a 50 percent discount below formal market prices.

    Seasonal income: Good pastoral conditions and proceeds from rainfed and irrigated crops are responsible for the more or less average levels of household income in the central and eastern reaches of the agropastoral zone, the eastern reaches of the rainfed cultivation zone, and the western and eastern reaches of the Senegal River Valley. Seasonal incomes in other parts of the country normally generated by local employment and short-term seasonal labor migration are up from the last two months with the slight improvement in migration income, though still well-below-average due to the limited supply of local employment and modest amount of migrant remittances.

    Markets and prices: Retail markets are still well-stocked with imported staple foodstuffs. Prices for wheat, the main imported substitute foodstuff, are more or less unchanged from last month in all livelihood zones and are trending downwards. This is due to the ample availability of wheat from the large, regular commercial imports by private traders, the government, and humanitarian organizations, as observed on the Adel Bagrou market. Prices are up sharply from the same time last year by 31 percent in the rainfed cultivation zone, where the presence of Tuareg refugees confined to the M’Bera camp has heightened demand, but are stable in other parts of the country. The only large fluctuations of more than +/- 10 percent in current prices compared with the five-year average are in the rainfed cultivation zone (+42 percent) and the agropastoral zone (+122 percent).

    The stable prices of foodstuffs sold in government-subsidized “Boutiques de Solidarité” (BS) and the stabilization or rise in livestock prices with pastoralists beginning to sell milking and fattened animals on certain markets have helped slightly reverse the steady decline in terms of trade since September 2014 in all livelihood zones.


    The most-likely food security scenario for April through September 2015 was established based on the following underlying national assumptions:

    Farming activities:
    • Rainfall: Current seasonal forecasts by different meteorological services (NOAA/CPC, IRI, UK Met, and ECMWF) are predicting very different outcomes for the 2015 rainy season in Mauritania ranging from no rainfall anomalies to a high probability of below-average rainfall (Figures 1, 2, and 3). Based on these conflicting forecasts, FEWS NET is assuming that the 2015/2016 rainy season across the country will get off to a timely start in June and is expecting average to below-average levels of cumulative rainfall.
    • Crop production: Seasonal cereal production (in walo, bottomland, and dam areas) for 2014/15 will be well below figures for 2013/14 and well-below-average in all parts of the country. Yields of hot off-season crops in the Senegal River Valley normally harvested between the end of May and June will have no real positive effect on food availability and the incomes of poor households, except in the western reaches of the Senegal River Valley (in southwestern Trarza, in the river delta). Their impact on households in other parts of the area will be limited due to the low water level of the river. Based on current forecasts indicating average to below-average rainfall, the main September harvest of short-cycle cereals and pulses is expected to be average to below-average.
    • Date production: There will definitely be a smaller than average volume of date production in the northern (Adrar) and central (Tagant, Assaba, and Hodh El Gharbi) part of the country as a result of the water deficit. However, during the “guetna” (between May and August), demand for dates will increase, generating income for poor households with members working in the tourism industry.
    • Farm income: At a minimum, poor households in the central and eastern reaches of the agropastoral zone, the eastern part of the rainfed cultivation zone, and the western and eastern reaches of the Senegal River Valley should have average seasonal incomes between April and June due to on-farm employment opportunities afforded by the growing of rainfed crops beginning in June and proceeds from hot off-season irrigated crops harvested between May and June.
    Pastoral activities:
    • Pastoral conditions: The degraded condition of pastures is affected the sale value of livestock and are forcing pastoralists to resort to purchasing animal feed and to atypically large animal sales. Only middle-income and better-off households will see any real lasting positive effects from the shift in marketing strategy from the sale of at-risk animals to the sale of milking and fattened animals, with many poor households left with only ten to twenty or so small ruminants at most (mainly goats), depending on the area, having already sold off more than half their herds. The improvement in pastoral conditions with the start of the rainy season should help strengthen the impact of the government’s pastoral assistance program and allow poor households to scale back their livestock sales.
    • Income from pastoral labor: Poor households in most livelihood zones will have well-below-average levels of income from pastoral labor for the entire outlook period. Based on current patterns of transhumance, most pastoral employment opportunities for poor households are in the southern reaches of the agropastoral zone and the rainfed cultivation zone, which are currently the main destination areas for transhumant pastoralists. Camel herders normally flooding into the northern and central reaches of the agropastoral zone have, instead, headed for pasturelands in Tiris, where there were good rainfall conditions during the cold season, depriving poor households in those areas of their usual source of seasonal income during the lean season for pastoral populations.
    Other sources of food and income:
    • Migrant remittances: The lack of local seasonal activities has speeded up the flow of short-term seasonal labor migration, though it is still much lighter than average. A significant increase in migration income is unlikely with the economic slowdown in major national (Nouakchott, Nouadhibou, and Zouerate) and subregional (border areas of Mali and Senegal) destination areas for migrant workers due to ongoing conflicts (the strike by Société Nationale Industrielle et Minière (SNIM) workers, the limited volume of hiring by fishing companies employing mostly temporary workers for the duration of their fishing license, etc..) or agropastoral conditions comparable to those in Mauritania (the case of southwestern Mali and northern Senegal).
    • Household food stocks: The current lack of household food stocks in the middle of the post-harvest period for flood recession crops is forcing households (in all wealth groups) to resort to purchasing food supplies. The first harvests in September will allow households to start rebuilding their food stocks at the end of the outlook period.
    • Food imports: There will be a regular adequate volume of food imports (of rice, wheat, sugar, oil, etc.) during the outlook period to meet domestic consumption needs and sustain re-exports to Senegal, Mali, and the southern Maghreb, where the resale of these commodities and other manufactured goods serves as a source of foreign exchange.
    • Food trade: The flow of domestic trade is lighter than usual for this time of year and will remain limited, but should pick up between April and June, bolstered by local rice harvests in the river valley area and by maize and rice exports from Mali and Senegal. Seasonal on-farm practices are helping to revitalize cross-border trade in coarse grains, but its volume and duration will be well-below-average with the shortfalls in cereal production in border areas of Senegal and certain parts of Mali. There will be a stable or growing volume of Senegalese re-exports of Asian rice through the end of June through established clandestine channels which, thus far, have been able to avoid government red tape and customs surveillance. There will be a larger than average volume of re-exports of imported commodities (oil, sugar, wheat flour, noodles, etc.) in all border areas to Mali, Senegal, and the southern Maghreb, which will help supply traders with the needed foreign currency for purchasing cereals, pulses, and animal feed for sale on Mauritanian markets.
    • Cereal prices: Prices for imported foodstuffs and coarse grains will rise in line with normal seasonal trends, but any such price increases will be tempered (or contained) by the ample availability of substitute cereals (wheat, locally grown rice, and large re-exports of maize by Mali and Senegal, etc.) on local markets and by assistance programs, which should reduce demand.
    • Livestock prices: Average prices for livestock on local markets are expected to stabilize between April and June with middle-income and better-off households now selling profitable animals (milk cows and fattened bulls) rather than continuing to sell at-risk animals at low prices as a way to cut their losses. However, even with the rising prices of livestock, in general, poor households without access to animal feed to maintain their animals in good condition will be unable to keep up with the competition and, thus, will sell animals in poor physical condition at low prices. Livestock prices will continue to rise between July and September with the improvement in the physical condition of animals with the growth of fresh pasture and the new heightened demand for livestock for the approaching religious holidays (the feast marking the end of Ramadan and the celebration of Tabaski).
    Other important issues:
    • Debt: Low seasonal incomes and the heightened dependence on market purchase for household food supplies will translate into above-average levels of debt. This could impact future income (including short-term seasonal labor migration income), which will be used to pay off these debts.
    • Assistance programs: There will be assistance programs operated by the government (with 250,000 recipients), international NGOs (ACF – 20,006 recipients, OXFAM – 4,548 recipients, and Save The Children – 33,600 recipients), and the WFP (with 250,000 recipients) in all parts of the country during the lean season (between May and September), with an especially high concentration of such programs in Brakna and Gorgol, encompassing both areas of concern. With WFP program financing already in place (from the United States government, for Hodh Echargui and Tagant) and the mobilization of ARC financing for the CSA program in eight of the country’s 53 municipalities, the likelihood is that these programs will, in fact, be implemented. Ongoing programs such as village-level food security stocks (SAVS), government-subsidized “Boutiques de Solidarité” (BS), outpatient therapeutic feeding centers (CRENAMs), and distributions of free food assistance will continue through the month of September.

    Most likely food security outcomes

    The limited food access of poor households to meet household food needs and maintain their small animal herds is preventing them from effectively meeting other nonfood needs whose satisfaction oftentimes requires resorting to loans encumbering any future household income in advance.

    Households in most pastoral areas and in the western and central reaches of the rainfed cultivation zone where pastoral conditions have been relatively good and where crop production levels were near-average are currently experiencing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity. However, these populations could gradually decline into Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity between April and September with the depletion of their food stocks, the deterioration in terms of trade, and the high probability of a decline in their seasonal incomes normally used to purchase food supplies. This would put them in a similar situation to that of local and transhumant pastoralists in the eastern reaches of that area faced with a shortage of pasture for their animals. In fact, with the absence of activities in rural areas during the lean season and the sluggish urban economy squeezed by the slowdown in business activity in major economic hubs (Nouadhibou, Zouerate, Nouakchott, etc.), short-term seasonal labor migration is not expected to produce any major spin-off effects. This situation, created by a normal seasonal phenomenon, will be especially noticeable in transhumant pastoral, pastoral, and trading areas of central and northern Trarza, and the central and northern reaches of the agropastoral zone (central Assaba, Hodh Echargui, and Hodh El Gharbi) with most transhumant livestock normally ensconced in the southern reaches of this zone and in Mauritanian farming areas away in Mali.

    The current increases in cereal trade flows in rainfed farming areas along the Malian border has triggered a downward trend in cereal prices, which will be reinforced by current assistance programs operated by the WFP and CSA (the Food Security Commission). This should keep households in the central and western reaches of this area in the current phase of Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity, though conditions could deteriorate over the next few months, creating Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security outcomes.

    Poor households in the central reaches of the Senegal River Valley and the northern and western reaches of the agropastoral zone have been hit by large shortfalls in their annual cereal production. They are dependent on market purchase for their food supplies, while coping with a sharp decline in their seasonal income from local employment and migrant remittances. Their ramped-up sales of animals to maintain their access to commercially marketed food items will only serve to erode their livelihoods and force them to resort to negative dietary and livestock management strategies. Thus, very poor and poor households in this area will face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) levels of food insecurity between now and September 2015. A small group of households could face food security outcomes equivalent to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) food insecurity.

    The situation of poor households in northern rural areas of the country could be stabilized by pastoral assistance programs and the spin-off effects of the “guetna” (the time of year when households earn extra income in the date harvest and ancillary activities engaged in by middle-income and better-off households from the city). However, with the expected smaller than average volume of data production due to the water shortage created by the rainfall deficit, these households will continue to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security conditions through September.

    For more information on the outlook for specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of the page for the full report.

    Figures Current food security outcomes, April 2015

    Figure 1

    Current food security outcomes, April 2015

    Source: FEWS NET

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. Rainfall anomalies (mm/day), July through September 2015

    Figure 3

    Figure 1. Rainfall anomalies (mm/day), July through September 2015

    Source: NOAA CPC

    Figure 2. Probability of below-average rainfall, July through September 2015

    Figure 4

    Figure 2. Probability of below-average rainfall, July through September 2015

    Source: UK MET

    Figure 3. Probability of the most likely rainfall range, July through September 2015

    Figure 5

    Figure 3. Probability of the most likely rainfall range, July through September 2015

    Source: ECMWF

    Figure 2


    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.

    Get the latest food security updates in your inbox Sign up for emails

    The information provided on this Website is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.

    Jump back to top