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Average harvests and good pastoral conditions ease food insecurity

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Mauritania
  • February - September 2016
Average harvests and good pastoral conditions ease food insecurity

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  • Key Messages
  • National overview
  • Key Messages
    • Average cereal harvests, adequate market supplies from a normal flow of cross-border cereal trade and imports, and the rising prices of livestock between now and September are creating good food security conditions across the country. Thus, most poor households have regular food access and will continue to experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity through September 2016. 

    • The good pastoral conditions will shorten the lean season for pastoral populations and improve the physical conditions of livestock. They are also helping to improve animal birth rates in pastoral and agropastoral areas and to facilitate the rebuilding of animal herds that were diminished by livestock losses and sales during the past three difficult years in pastoral areas. The improvement in milk availability between July and September will help promote better food consumption by pastoral households. 

    • Agropastoral households in Akjoujt department in Inchiri, Aoujeft department in Adrar, and the western reaches of the agropastoral zone (Moudjeria and Monguel departments) have been affected by shortfalls in their crop production that have depleted their cereal stocks. These households are forced to purchase their food supplies with incomes sharply reduced by their smaller herd sizes since 2013. Consequently, they are currently experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security conditions and will continue to do so through September 2016. . 

    • Households in agropastoral areas of Brakna and the central portion of the oasis zone affected by pasture deficits in 2014 and 2015 will continue to rely on livestock sales due to this year’s limited crop production. These production deficits have reduced the farm income of poor households and will keep them in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) between February and June. Yields from livestock-raising activities will reduce food insecurity outcomes to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) as of July.

    National overview
    Current situation

    Agricultural conditions

    Rainfed cereal production was above-average levels. However, upcoming harvests of flood-recession crops in March could be average to below-average in spite of the good flooding levels in walo areas, lowlands, and dam areas and the large areas planted in these crops. With the delay in the recession of the floodwaters from these areas, crop planting activities in low-lying and intermediate areas extended into the middle of January, while they are normally concluded by October or November. On the other hand, crops in highland areas have been drying up since December.

    These problems have been compounded by the intense pressure from crop pests (grasshoppers, beetles, grain-eating birds, etc.), which have sharply reduced yields of sorghum and maize. The off-season rice production during the hot season will be below the five-year average with reduced areas planted, both for fear of high farming costs due to the heat and the lack of an effective control program for grain-eating birds. Despite this year’s good rainfed cereal production, these constraints on irrigated and flood-recession crops support the projection that the national crop production will surpass 2015 figures but remain below-average.

    Market garden production is down sharply in oasis areas due to the water shortage in those areas, similar to average in the Senegal River Valley (mainly in Trarza), but well-below-average in Adrar (Aoujeft, Chinguitti, and Ouadane) and Tagant (Tidjikja). With the government no longer buying up market garden crops from farmers in the northern part of the country as part of its disengagement policy, these farmers are facing stiff competition from exports of European, Moroccan, and Senegalese crops and, thus, have limited the size of areas planted in these crops.

    So far, the only hot off-season irrigated crops are in the Trarza area, where the size of cropped areas is down sharply from 2015 and well below the five-year average. In fact, many communities in Trarza have stopped growing these crops, following the example of their counterparts in Brakna and Gorgol. These farmers estimate that their farming costs, which are no longer covered by the government this year, would be too much to bear and that the pressure from grain-eating birds, which are still not under control, would pose a serious threat to their rice crops.

    Seasonal income

    The incomes of poor households in the central and eastern reaches of the agropastoral zone (MR07) and the rainfed farming zone (MR09) are close to the five-year average, and seasonal farming and pastoral activities are following seasonal tendancies. On the other hand, poor households in the pastoral, oasis, and wadi zone (MR03), the river valley (MR08), the central portion of the transhumant pastoral zone (MR01), and the western reaches of the agropastoral zone (MR07) will have well-below-average incomes with smaller areas planted on account of rainfall anomalies and the delay in the recession of the floodwaters from flood-recession farming areas. This is reducing demand for farm labor. Poor households in river valley areas of Brakna and Gorgol have practically no income from farm labor during the hot off-season underway since February. Income levels in Trarza are also sharply reduced with the decreased cropped areas. The earlier than usual flow of short-term seasonal migration (since January instead of March/April) in all agropastoral areas affected by rainfall deficits or anomalies has not yet produced any significant effects in the form of food or cash. Households remaining behind report that migrants are encountering problems trying to find work in large cities (Nouakchott, Zouerate, Nouadhibou, etc.) due to heavy competition. The supply of labor is outstripping demand.

    Pastoral conditions

    Except for a few pockets of deficits in the northern and western reaches of the agropastoral zone (MR07), the pasturelands’ capacity is meeting the needs of livestock herds. Animals are in satisfactory physical condition and, in some cases, in better condition than they were in the last few months and during the same period of 2015. However, there is little milk production due to the slow recovery in birth rates, with females weakened by the poor pastoral conditions of the last two years. Seasonal herd movements by transhumant livestock are in line with normal patterns of migration, and fire risks have been sharply reduced by the establishment and repair of fire-breaks. Safe havens in the southern and eastern parts of the country have enough vegetation to meet potential demand from other pastoral areas.

    Retail markets

    Retail markets are still well stocked with imported staple foodstuffs (wheat, rice, oil, sugar, flour, etc.). The recent rise in food prices (rice, oil, and sugar prices) in the wake of the fire in a SONIMEX warehouse (the National Import and Export Company) has only noticeably increased prices in Nouakchott. Prices in most parts of the country, supplied with re-exports of Senegalese rice, are still relatively stable.

    Market supplies of coarse cereal crops are still much smaller than average. In addition to the delay in harvests, many farmers are still holding onto their rainfed cereal crops for their own consumption and do not plan to sell any crops until after the harvest of flood-recession crops (beginning in April). With the near-average harvests of rainfed crops, sorghum prices in all parts of the country have decreased from the same time in 2015 and below the five-year average. Prices for locally grown cereal crops are down from previous months, in line with normal seasonal trends, driven by the average to above-averge harvests of rainfed crops in all parts of the country, as well as in Mali. Prices on the Adel Bagrou market (in the rainfed farming zone) are around 120 MRO (compared with the average of 133.6 MRO) and prices in Boghé (in the river valley) are at 250 MRO, slightly above the five-year average of 224 MRO. In spite of the barely adequate harvest outlook for flood recession crops, the price of sorghum on the Aoujeft market in the pastoral, oasis, and wadi zone (362.5 MRO/kg) is still down from January 2015 (375 MRO/kg), but above the five-year average (351 MRO/kg). The combined effects of the lower prices for locally grown cereal crops and comparatively stable prices of imported foods are improving food access for poor households.

    Livestock markets

    Seasonal supplies of livestock are down sharply from the same period of 2015 and from a typical year. Pastoralists have limited their sales of livestock in order to rebuild their cattle and sheep herds that were reduced by animal losses and sales in 2015. Poor households, although pressured by the need to purchase food supplies, are choosing to delay their livestock sales until the lean season in farming areas and the high-demand period before Tabaski in June, when they will get better prices for their animals. In general, terms of trade are still close to average and, thus, in favor of poor households.


    The most likely nationwide food security scenario for the period February through September 2016 is based on the following general assumptions:

    Agricultural activities

    • Agro-climatic conditions: Based on the analysis of NOAA, ECMWS, IRI, and UK MET seasonal forecasting models, rainfall levels for the 2016 rainy season are expected to be average to below-average. As usual, the rains will begin at the end of June and end in early October, with rainfall activity peaking between the third dekad of August and the first dekad of September. There will be sufficient cumulative annual rainfall for normal crop growth and development.
    • Crop production: With the projected shortfall in hot off-season crop production due to fears of soaring costs (in the absence of any government assistance since 2015) and continuing pressure from bird infestations which are not yet under control, crop production should surpass 2015 figures but be below the five-year average.
    • Plant conditions: In spite of the stable locust situation and regular surveillance by the National Locust Control Center (CNLA), there is still some risk of a locust infestation due to the lack of surveillance in insecure areas of northern Mali, northern Niger, and the southern Sahara and the environmental conditions conducive to a second breeding season in northern Mauritania. Infestation rates for other crop pests such as grasshoppers, beetles, and stalk borers should remain stable, but there will be a further increase in the already intense pressure in 2015 of grain-eating birds, given the ongoing nesting activities and the lack of treatment programs. This has caused a sharp rise in bird densities.
    • Agricultural income: The smaller areas planted in flood-recession and hot off-season irrigated crops will reduce demand for farm labor and, with no raise in daily wage rates (ranging from 1500 to 2000 MRO depending on the type of work), poor households will have well below-average incomes from farm labor between February and June. On the other hand, with the outlook for an average to slightly below-average rainy season and the start-up of cold off-season irrigated farming activities, incomes should rebound to near-average levels by the beginning of July.

    Pastoral activities

    • Pastoral conditions: Pasturelands’ capacity across the country will meet the needs of livestock herds throughout the outlook period. Livestock will remain in good physical shape without the need for pastoralists to purchase animal feed, except in a few pockets of below-average pastoral conditions in Aoujeft, Moudjeria, and Monguel departments. Prices for animal feed are expected to plunge with the sharp decline in demand (except for that of milk vendors selling to dairies). Animal birth rates will follow normal seasonal trends, but there will still be below-average levels of milk production, a crucial dietary staple, due to the smaller size of animal herds. Many households in pastoral and agropastoral areas will continue to buy powdered milk between now and July, whose price will stay above-average (it is currently already approximately 20 percent above-average). There will be more or less normal seasonal herd movements by transhumant livestock in search of water, both in terms of their migration routes and their timing.  
    • Income from pastoral activities: Based on the average outlook for pastoral conditions, average levels of seasonal income from pastoral activities are expected between February and July. With the heavy competition from milk collectors and pastoralists, the sale of milk by poor households in agropastoral areas, the river valley, rainfed farming areas, and transhumant pastoral area will generate below-average levels of income, particularly with the sharp reduction in cattle and sheep herds in most livelihood zones due to the losses and sales of animals in the past few years and with animal birth rates just starting to recover.


    • Food imports: There will be a sufficient volume of regular imports of staple foodstuffs (rice, wheat, sugar, oil, etc.) during the outlook period to meet domestic consumption needs and to sustain a normal flow of re-exports to Senegal, Mali, and the southern Maghreb, where the resale of these items and manufactured goods serves as a source of foreign exchange.
    • Livestock markets: There will be a larger than usual contraction in market supplies between February and September due to the herd rebuilding needs of pastoral households, the impact of harvests of flood-recession crops (cereals and pulses), which will reduce demand for food products purchased from earnings of animal sales, as well as the fewer animal sales of  poor and middle-income households whose herds were diminished by the losses and sales in 2014 and 2015. On the other hand, there could be a normal supply of livestock by May in anticipation of the celebration of Tabaski, to meet domestic demand and demand for livestock exports to Senegal and southwestern Mali.
    • Livestock prices: The average prices of livestock will be higher than usual throughout the outlook period, fueled by demand for the celebration of Tabaski and the recovery of pastoral conditions between July and September, after the end of Tabaski. This will limit the volume of sales. Thus, prices should be above typical threshold levels in an average year (by 20 to 30 percent), which should help poor households.
    • Cereal prices: With the just barely average harvests of flood-recession crops, sorghum prices in the post-harvest period (between February and April) will be reduced less than usual (by 10 to 20 percent from February). Between June and September, the depletion of the cereal stocks of poor households in May will drive prices back up, but the good market supplies of imported wheat, the main substitute cereal for sorghum, are expected to keep seasonal rises in prices to within 30 percent of their current levels.

    Other major food security drivers

    • Migrant remittances: Even with the early flow of short-term seasonal migration (beginning in December/January instead of in March/April) and the larger numbers of migrants (two or three household members instead of only one) from areas with large rainfall deficits (the western reaches of the agropastoral zone and eastern and central reaches of the pastoral, oasis, and wadi zone), there will be a well below-average volume of remittances throughout the outlook period. The sluggish economy in urban areas and the saturation of the informal sector (a sharp increase in the supply of labor and simultaneous decline in noncommercial economic activity) will make it difficult for unskilled migrant laborers to find stable, lucrative work.
    • Wild plant products: Harvests of jujubes (red dates), gum Arabic, and monkey bread fruits are in their final stages in most growing areas. Harvests of desert dates (the fruit of the balanite tree) are underway and, as usual, could extend through the end of March. The near-average yields from these harvests should generate an average stream of income (around 50,000 MRO).
    • Debt: Part of the harvest of flood-recession crops in all rural areas affected by crop production deficits between 2013 and 2015 will be used to partially repay outstanding debts and food loans between February and March. Poor households in certain deficit areas (Aoujeft in Adrar, Moudjeria in Tagant, and Monguel in Gorgol) have already begun to resort to new food loans. In other rural areas, such arrangements will resume during the lean season for farming households but should not be as heavily used due to the stable price of imported wheat (the main substitute cereal) and the expected rise in livestock prices (between April and June), which will maintain favorable terms of trade for local households.
    • Assistance programs: As in previous years, the usual traditional assistance programs will operate in all parts of the country, including “boutiques de solidarité” (BS) (government-subsidized food outlets), village-level food security stocks (SAVS), school meal programs (CS), and outpatient therapeutic feeding centers (CRENAMs). There will be adequate, regular deliveries of humanitarian assistance to Malian refugees in the M’Bera camp throughout the outlook period.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    February through May

    The good pastoral conditions, average levels of crop production, rising prices of livestock, and good market supplies at relatively stable prices in most parts of the country are providing poor households with normal seasonal livelihoods. Thus, these households will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity.

    The large rainfall deficit in the central reaches of the country (Aoujeft department in Adrar and Akjoujt department in Inchiri) has affected pastures and sharply limited farming activities (for flood recession and market garden crops) and date production. Poor households will continue to resort to purchases of food supplies during this period while facing a sharp reduction in their seasonal income, which will curtail their access to commercially marketed foodstuffs and place them in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes of food insecurity.

    In Gorgol, poor households in the central and western reaches of the Monguel department, which were in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in 2014 and until September 2015 are seeing an improvement in farming and pastoral conditions this year, but conditions in these areas are still much poorer than usual. This year’s limited volume of crop production will cover household food needs for three to four months at most (instead of the average six to seven-month) and the smaller size of livestock herds will prevent pastoral households from generating enough income with which to properly supplement their diet and, at the same time, repay several (three to four) months worth of accrued food loans. Accordingly, the food security situation of these poor households will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    Poor households in southwestern areas of Tagant (in Moudjeria department) will be in a similar situation. Severely affected by the poor pastoral conditions in 2014 and 2015 resulting in large losses and sales of livestock, these households will put increased pressure on their herds with additional animal sales this year. These sales are due to shortfalls in their rainfed cereal production, their sharply reduced yields from livestock production in the form of food and cash given their smaller herds, and their lack of other sources of income (there is very little migration income in this area). In effect, these sales of animals will create livelihood protection deficits putting these households in the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity between February and June.

    Even with the average levels of rainfed crop production in the western reaches of the agropastoral zone (the Brakna region), the expected shortfall in flood recession crop production will result in an earlier than expected lean season (beginning in April rather than May). Like in other pastoral areas, the smaller size of livestock herds and their debt burden from previous years will limit the ability of local households to respond to this shock without reducing their nonfood spending, which will put them in a Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security situation between April and June.

    The water shortage in 2015 has reduced the incomes of poor households in Chinguitti and Ouadane departments (in the Adrar region) and Tidjikja department in Tagant from market gardening and flood-recession farming activities (by around 50 percent). These households are normally highly reliant on purchased food supplies, largely from Nouakchott and the southern Maghreb. The sharp decline in exports from the Maghreb region for security reasons will leave these households extremely dependent on the Nouakchott market, where the fire in the SONIMEX warehouse has driven up food prices. Their reduced incomes and the high price of food in their supply zone will put them in the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) phase of food insecurity between February and June.

    June through September

    The food security situation of households in both agropastoral and wadi areas (Monguel department in Gorgol, Moudjeria department in Tagant, Aoujeft department in Adrar, and Akjoujt department in Inchiri) will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) due to the continuing effects of their reduced herd size, which is limiting their sales potential and associated sales revenues, as well as the impact of outstanding debts repayable solely from their cash earnings, since this year’s crop yields will not suffice for this purpose. Thus, they will be unable to maintain regular, adequate food access without creating livelihood protection deficits endangering their remaining livelihoods (livestock-raising).

    Current pastoral conditions in the Brakna agropastoral area will help the recovery in animal birth rates and improve milk availability by July, where poor households will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity. Likewise, date production and sales in Chinguitti and Ouadane departments in Adrar and Tidjikja department in Tagant (although below-average) and yields from livestock production during the rainy season should ensure Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity between July and September.

    With the normal start of the rainy season and the resuming of farming activities (for dieri and irrigated rainy season crops), the improvement in income from farm labor to near-average levels, the new pasture growth improving livestock production, the high prices of livestock fueled by demand for Tabaski, and the regular operation of inter-annual assistance programs, poor households in other parts of the country will continue to experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity. 


    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 Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Carte des résultats actuels de la sécurité alimentaire, février 2016

    Figure 2

    Carte des résultats actuels de la sécurité alimentaire, février 2016

    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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