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Minimal food insecurity in rural areas; conditions in local areas to be monitored

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Mauritania
  • January - July 2013
Minimal food insecurity in rural areas; conditions in local areas to be monitored

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  • Key Messages
  • Nationwide Overview
  • Areas of Concern
  • Events that Might Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • With nationwide cereal production expected to surpass the five-year average by 25 percent, and adequate  domestic and cross-border trade flows, food availability should be average to above-average through the end of June.

    • Good pastoral conditions, higher levels of seasonal income, food resources earned from farming activities, and favorable terms of trade will keep most poor households in IPC Phase 1:  Minimal food insecurity between January and March. 

    • Poor agro-dominant agropastoral households in northwestern agropastoral areas and southeastern rainfed agriculture zones will move into IPC Phase 2:  Stress between March/April and June, along with northern households impacted by the protracted drought in that area since last year. 

    • The resumption of fighting in northern Mali has triggered a new wave of refugees and has, to some extent, slowed trade in affected border areas. Monitoring market and cross-border trade disruptions will be important in determining the impact of security threats on pastoral systems, particularly in southeastern rainfed farming areas. 

    Nationwide Overview
    Current situation

    Output from harvests of rainfed (millet, sorghum, and corn) and irrigated (rice) crops was above the five-year average by 25 and 69 percent, respectively. Farming activities for flood-recession crops (walo crops grown along the Senegal River and crops in lowland and dam areas) are underway and, in spite of seed shortages and pest attacks, nationwide output from these crops should be close to the five-year average. However, in addition to the  production shortfalls in pastoral and oasis areas, certain pockets of production deficits were caused by poor distribution of rainfall, low-investment on the part of local farmers (in southeastern rainfed agriculture zones), or the bursting of water retention structures by heavy rains upstream and within the area (in northwestern agropastoral areas).

    Pastoral conditions across the country are good and, in spite of pasture shortages in the north, a country-wide pasture availability problem is not expected between now late June, as long as seasonal brush fires are contained. The annual firebreak construction and maintenance program already underway should largely preserve pasture production capacity and ensure a normal pattern of internal transhumant herds.

    The growing season for flood recession (walo and lowland) crops is well underway, but farmers were forced to do multiple rounds of planting due to damage from grasshoppers. This could sharply reduce cereal yields, but cowpeas, an important source of food and income, are already in the maturation stage.  Harvests of irrigated winter crops are in their final stages in nearly all crop-producing areas of the river valley. In spite of the lower crop yields due to asphyxiation problems caused by excess water, the rice harvest should still be close to November forecasts and the five-year average, at approximately 187,795 metric tons.

    The locust situation is marked by a visible reduction in treatable targets in the Central and Northwest regions, concentrated mainly in pastoral and oasis areas. With the deterioration in environmental conditions, the small groups of young winged insects spotted in these areas could disperse if conditions do not improve with the beginning of the cold season rains.

    Cereal markets have good supplies of coarse grains and imports (rice and wheat) from local farmers and Mauritanian importers, though the resumption of fighting in Mali in early January has already slowed trade and closed most weekly border markets in certain areas, particularly the Bassikounou, Fassala, M’béra 2, Aghor, Gneïba, and Adala markets. After the shutdown of both markets for several days, trading on the Adel Bagrou and Drougal markets in Adel Bagrou department more than 120 kilometers west of the conflict area is slowly picking up. In general, cereal prices have been stable or trending downwards since December. Prices for rainfed sorghum crops dropped between October and December (by 44.4 percent on the Magta Lahjar market in an agropastoral area and by 17 percent in rainfed farming areas), except in the river valley and southern agropastoral areas, where these crops are used for seeds. Prices for other imported foods are stable and certain prices such as that of wheat are falling, except on the Boghé market frequented by livestock-oriented agropastoralists, the main suppliers for that city’s livestock market, looking to stock up on provisions. The continued operation of so-called “boutiques de solidarité” (government-subsidized shops) and SAVS (village-level food security reserve) programs should sustain these price trends between now and the end of June.

    Trends on livestock markets between November and December were marked by across-the-board rise price increases. The decline in prices between October and November was evidently a result of the sharp post-holiday slump in sales. With demand for the religious holidays in Senegal in January and the upcoming celebration of Mouloud (the birth of the prophet) in both countries, livestock prices have steadily increased since the beginning of December (4.7 percent in the river valley and 12.5 percent in agropastoral areas). In contrast, livestock prices in areas unaffected by this demand (rainfed farming areas) are still down by more than 20 percent (Adel Bagrou). 

    The announced closure of certain government assistance program activities (cash transfers and distributions of free food aid and animal feed) in rural areas has apparently taken effect. However, international NGOs active in a number of rural municipalities, particularly in agropastoral areas, the river valley, and rainfed farming areas, are expected to conduct their regular annual assistance programs focused mainly on building crop production capacity, involving market gardening activities, cereal production, seed production, village shops, and child nutrition centers.


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

    • Strengthened village-level food security reserve (SAVS) programs and so-called “boutiques de solidarité” (BS) or government-subsidized shops will continue to operate through the end of June of this year. FEWS NET does not expect any continuing outside or out of the ordinary humanitarian assistance.
    • Whatever their means of access (free distributions, purchasing, borrowing, substitution), farming households had sufficient seed access to plant 20 to 30 percent larger than average areas in flood-recession crops between October and November. The main crops generally grown in these areas are sorghum, corn, and cowpeas, which will be harvested between February and March.
    • Labor migration will help provide poor households in southeastern rainfed farming areas with relatively close-to-normal incomes and food reserves. Work in the harvest and in related activities (threshing, transport, winnowing, and storage activities) could continue through the end of March. This migration should not be disrupted by the violence in Mali since, except for the Niger River Delta area, all flood-recession farming areas in need of extra labor are in Mauritania.
    • Thanks to the preventive measures taken by the National Locust Control Center (CNLA), the locust situation should remain unchanged and under control, through the end of June.
    • The good to excellent pastoral conditions in most parts of the country should help increase animal birthing rates between February and March and boost milk production, which will still be 20 percent below-average due to the losses of livestock between October 2011 and August 2012.
    • Aside from the usual seasonal migration by large-scale transhumant pastoralists and nomads (who account for three percent of the nation’s population), any herd movements will be internal and will not cause any clashes between farmers and pastoralists or among pastoralists. They will be limited mainly to pastoralists from pastoral and oasis areas facing a major pasture deficit (beginning as of February) and agropastoralists from northwestern agropastoral areas (between March and April, depending on the pressure from transhumant herds). This will probably mean less income for poor households from employment in pastoral activities, but it will also improve access to milk as of February/March, which is a mainstay of the diet of rural households. Moreover, limited seasonal migration by transhumant herds will oftentimes reduce supplies on livestock markets and sharpen expected rises in livestock prices during the holidays (between October and January). 
    • Fuel prices will increase by 10 percent between January and June of this year, driving up staple food prices by 10 to 20 percent, as has been the case in the past.
    • With the exception of markets in settlement areas for refugees, all other Malian and Mauritanian markets should function normally throughout the outlook period thanks to a regular adequate flow of imports ensuring good market supplies. Any shutdowns and closures will be temporary and will be made based on information on the progress of the campaign to retake northern Mali.
    • In general, there will be less reliance than usual on loans of food and/or cash for food purchases. The expected above-average cereal harvest should provide households with more resources to help limit lean season borrowing.
    • Debts in all areas of concern will be paid off normally. The settlement of debts between April and June should not have any unusual negative effects on household food access, with the repayment of outstanding debts allowing for the opening of new lines of food credit.
    • Any remaining food gaps will be partially offset by the smooth operation of coping strategies between March and June, which should not significantly impair the livelihoods of poor households.
    • The new influx of refugees will increase needs for humanitarian aid between January and June over and beyond current estimates based on a refugee population of 54,115. On the other hand, social programs will be sharply cut back compared with last year and the five-year average and focus mainly on improving cereal availability to limit the negative effects of speculation by traders.
    • Prices are expected to increase between January and June of this year with the reduction in the volume of humanitarian food aid available for resale. However, this should not affect market supplies, with local traders meeting demand with imports from Nouakchott and with the rebound in regular domestic trade.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    Food insecurity levels in all rural areas of the country will decrease between January and March, falling back in line with the norm for that time of year. Higher levels of seasonal income from farming activities and increasingly favorable terms of trade should give poor rural households regular access to markets well-stocked with foodstuffs at stable (rice, oil, and sugar) or falling (local cereals) prices. The good conditions in pastoral areas will protect livestock assets, which are an important source of both food and income. The smooth flow of domestic trade between January and March and imports from Mali (coarse cereals) and Senegal (rice) should help offset localized deficits. Conditions in rainfed farming areas are expected to deteriorate between April and June with the impact of the crisis in Mali limiting the effectiveness of normal seasonal coping strategies. The same goes for the situation in the northern part of the country, where poorer pastoral conditions and limited earnings from crops grown in oasis and flood recession farming areas will adversely affect poor households. However, the continued operation of “boutiques de solidarité”) through the end of June should prevent a major deterioration in the situation of poor households in peri-urban areas (see Figure 4). 

    Areas of Concern

    Southeastern reaches of livelihood zone 6 (rainfed agriculture)

    Current situation

    Rain fed cereal crops in this area of concern (the Fassala Néré district of Bassikounou department), which normally meet the needs of poor households through the end of March, were already depleted by January of this year. The lean season for these households (an estimated 8,970 individuals, representing 60 percent of the local population) should have begun as early as January but, in spite of the presence of over 54,000 Malian refugees, they were able to handle this production deficit through market purchase, thanks to a general 50 percent increase in seasonal income from agricultural labor in other areas and their work at the M’Bera refugee camp. As a result, these poor households were able to build up near-normal family food reserves which, bolstered by future harvests of flood recession crops (in February), should meet their food needs through the end of March.

    Local markets are well-stocked with foodstuffs resold by refugees from their food rations and with crops from Mauritanian and Malian farmers. Prices for all types of foodstuffs have been steadily declining since November and, in spite of the unusual drop in livestock prices (by 21 percent since October); terms of trade for sheep/cereal are still in favor of livestock-selling households. Seasonal consumption of local crops (cereals, cowpeas, and groundnuts) and wild plant foods is at a normal level, and many households have stopped eating wheat, replacing it with millet and sorghum, the mainstays of the local diet. Ongoing sales of wild plant products (gum Arabic, jujubes, and the fruits of baobab trees, palmyra palms, and balanite trees) are bringing in double typical income levels for this activity.


    The most likely local food security scenario outlined below for the period from January through June 2013 is based on the following general assumptions:

    • Harvests of long-cycle and flood recession crops between February and March will be better than usual.
    • The lean season will go as usual, with an expected sharp decline in cereal imports from Mali between February and June. This will significantly reduce supplies, triggering an increase in cereal prices.
    • Markets will continue to be well-stocked with substitute cereals, but terms of trade will steadily weaken between now and the end of June and, by the end of March, will no longer be in favor of livestock-selling households.  By April, poor households may no longer be able to continue selling animals without running the risk of impairing their livelihoods, by which time they will probably have reached the limits of their sales capacity (two to three head of stock).
    • According to the findings by the biometric survey conducted between August and September of last year, the size of the refugee population is nearly 50 percent smaller than expected. The resale of refugee food rations will have increasingly less of an impact on area markets.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    The already reduced levels of food insecurity affecting poor households will continue to drop between January and March, putting them in IPC Phase 1 (minimal food insecurity). In fact, cereal reserves from in-kind wage payments for work in the flood-recession crop harvest will meet food needs through the end of March. They will also benefit from natural product consumption and sales (the gathering of wild plant foods and the sale of wood) and good pastoral conditions, which will improve the availability of milk, an essential dietary component. However, with the evolving situation in Mali, seasonal prices for livestock are likely to be lower than usual owing to the disruption in exports to that country, which will affect their market access by the beginning of April. With most Mauritanian livestock from this area normally sold to buyers in Mali, household terms of trade can be expected to deteriorate between March and June.

    Household cereal reserves built mainly with in-kind wage payments from casual labor in neighboring areas will be gradually depleted and milk availability will steadily decline between April and June. There will be less migration to Mali and the Mauritanian job market will offer few employment prospects for job seekers, who will be forced into the informal sector. The only government assistance programs expected to continue operating are SAVS (village-level food security reserve) programs and “boutiques de solidarité” (government-subsidized shops) requiring a certain level of household purchasing power, which will be weakened by the end of the farming season and by competition from refugees in seasonal income-generating activities (such as the sale of wood and charcoal). The sharp decline in output from the gathering of wild plant products with the end of the growing season and the competition from refugees will limit household access to staple foods.  Poor farming households classified in IPC Phase 1 (minimal food insecurity) in January and February will fall to  IPC Phase 2 (stressed) by March, two months earlier than usual.  

    Northwestern reaches of livelihood zone 5 (agropastoralism)

    Current situation

    With the exception of this pocket, which includes northern Gorgol (Monguel department), eastern Aleg, and Magta Lahjar department in the Brakna region populated by farming-oriented poor agropastoral households, the rest of this agropastoral livelihood zone can be classified in IPC Phase 1 (minimal food insecurity) thanks to a better than average cereal harvest, the good pastoral conditions, and the sizeable amounts of seasonal income earned by poor households in this area.  These households (representing approximately 60 percent of the population) are normally in IPC Phase 1 (minimal food insecurity) only between January and March, when they still have rainfed crops from their recent harvests, enough income to give them access to commercially marketed foodstuffs, and a supply of milk and are able to start consuming crops grown in lowland areas (green corn, sorghum, beans, and leaves). Approximately 20 percent of their annual income is from on-farm employment, with the other 80 percent from employment in pastoral occupations, mostly in other areas. They meet close to 35 percent of their annual food needs through market purchase between January/February and August with the income earned from these sources and borrow cash against future harvests or future demand for farm labor.

    This January, 138,356 farming-oriented agropastoralists, or approximately 30 percent of poor households, were affected by shortfalls in food production and cash generation from rainfed crops and crops grown in dam areas. Their food security situation is impacted by their smaller than usual seasonal household cereal reserves. At best, farmers are expecting harvests of flood recession crops to meet their cereal needs for two months (February and March), compared with the usual four months coverage (February to May), after a 40 to 50 percent below-average harvest of rainfed cereal crops with the smaller than usual area planted in crops.  The expected shortfall in flood recession crop production stems from the smaller viable area for the growing of these crops. The destruction of numerous water retention structures (dikes, levees, and dams) by heavy runoff and poor seed availability and access, particularly after the loss of crops from the first round of planting to grasshoppers, is also expected to sharply reduce output from these crops (in February/March).

    Pastoral conditions are meeting the needs of local livestock herds. As a result, seasonal income from employment in pastoral activities has fallen off by nearly 50 percent, with livestock left mostly to graze on their own with the good availability of pasture and surface watering holes. Livestock prices have been moving downwards since November but are still very high compared with the same time last year owing to the limited supply of animals after losses during last year’s long lean season in pastoral areas.

    Markets are well-stocked with wheat and rice, the most popular cereals for poor households. The price of imported rice has been steadily rising since November in certain rural areas (Male and Batha Moït), where it is up sharply, but is relatively stable and even falling on markets in local hubs. This price dynamic is attributable to the small supply of local rice crops with the flooding of many irrigated rice-farming schemes, resulting in a poorer than usual harvest in neighboring areas of the river valley.


    The most likely local food security scenario outlined below for the period from January through June 2013 is based on the following general assumptions:

    • The harvest of flood recession crops (the main type of crops grown in this area, generally harvested in February) is expected to be less than normal, meeting the needs of poor households for two months at best (through March).
    • By April, the currently good pastoral conditions for local livestock will prove inadequate to keep pace with the growth in demand with the arrival of transhumant herds from the north over the next few months.
    • Cereal prices will continue to decline through the end of March, in line with normal seasonal trends, with levels dependant on the performance and harvest of flood recession crops.
    • The expected tightening of supplies on livestock markets will continue to steadily drive up the price of animals between now and the end of March. With pastoralists spared from having to sell off animals in order to buy animal feed and with the need to rebuild their herds, they will limit their sales of livestock, particularly with domestic trade flows and assistance programs (SAVS and “BS” programs) offering alternatives to market-trading as a means of food access.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    The good food security conditions (minimal food insecurity) in agropastoral areas through the end of December, sustained by government social programs, early harvests, income from on-farm employment, and good pastoral conditions, will be further strengthened by harvests of flood recession cereal crops, better access to milk, and favorable household terms of trade between January and March. This will keep poor agropastoral households food-secure, in IPC Phase 1 (minimal food insecurity), without putting pressure on their livelihoods.

    Between April and June, the end of the growing season for wild plant products, the farming season, the collection period for zakat obligations, and the drop in income from the sale of milk with the steady decline in the volume of seasonal milk production are expected to reduce household food availability by approximately 15 percent. At the same time, the low demand for labor in pastoral occupations will cut household income by close to 20 percent. Even with the smooth operation of SAVS and BS programs, this reduction in their income will give poor households no choice but to increase their sales of livestock. With the already small size of their herds (at most, three head of cattle and a dozen or so small animals), this sort of pressure will affect their main livelihood. Unable to hold food insecurity to a minimum between April and June, they will be propelled into IPC Phase 2 (stressed), which is normal for that time of year.

    Livelihood zone 2 (mixed pastoral and oases)

    Current situation

    This livelihood zone is populated mainly by farmers growing crops in oases (market garden crops and dates) and wadis (sorghum, cowpeas, and watermelons), who represent approximately half the local population. Most sales of small animals are by traders, who get their supplies from Nouakchott. Poor households in this area mainly raise sheep, whose milk production brings in much more income than their sale for their meat. These poor households, consisting of some 25,000 individuals, have little to do with the business and industrial activities in Zouerate (Tiris Zemmour) and Akjoujt (Inchiri) or the trading activities between northern Mauritania and the southern reaches of the North African countries. They are primarily full-time farmers growing crops in oasis areas (market garden, fodder, and date crops) between November and September, in wadis (between August and October), and in depression areas between November and February, where they produce sorghum, cowpeas, and watermelons. The cold season rains between December and early February allow for the cultivation of flood recession crops and, more importantly, for the grazing of animals on local pasturelands to keep them put and, thus, ensure a continuing supply of milk, a mainstay of the local diet.

    This year’s summer rains were both poor and erratic. The area normally gets main season rains (between June and October) and cold season rains (between January and February). The lack of rain in January could mean a dry second season. Certain areas (southern Aoujeft department, northwestern Akjoujt department, and northern Adrar (Chinguitti and Ouadane departments)) are already having problems with access to drinking water, which do not normally arise until late March.

    Rainfed crops generally grown by poor households in small depression areas or on the edges of shallow wadis failed for lack of water. Despite the low water levels in dam, dike, and depression areas (which are only between 20 and 50 percent full), as usual, market gardening activities are underway in oasis areas. Households have been resorting to market-buying since last May, having depleted their reserves (of food and cash) from the sale of dates or from jobs in oasis areas during the “guetna” (the date harvesting and marketing season) back in November. Livestock prices are up from November and above the seasonal average, but market supplies are low, which is contrary to normal seasonal trends in a bad year when pastoralists resort to thinning their herds as a way to cut their losses and limit their purchases of animal feed.  With the lack of pasture, there is virtually no milk production, which is a mainstay of the diet of poor households. Coarse cereal supplies are low and prices for flood recession sorghum crops are presently falling (they are down by 66 percent in Zouerate and 11 percent in Aoujeft), after spiking in November with the need for seeds. The flagging demand for sorghum, which is eaten only by poor households who are currently falling back on cheaper wheat, is driving down prices for these crops. However, this only affects sorghum-consuming farming households in Aoujeft and Akjoujt departments forced to turn to available supplies of substitute cereals (wheat and rice), whose prices are up by 10 percent. Households in other parts of this livelihood zone eat mostly rice, wheat, and pasta.


    The most likely local food security scenario outlined below for the period from January through June 2013 is based on the following general assumptions:

    • The February harvest of flood recession cereal crops will be at least 50 percent smaller than in a normal year, when sorghum, cowpea, and watermelon production meets approximately 25 percent of the needs of poor households.
    •  Markets will function normally, with regular supplies of substitute cereals and staple foodstuffs as traders increase their imports to keep pace with consumer demand.
    • There will be a normal harvest of cold season market garden crops, but a poor to mediocre harvest of hot season crops.
    • Income from farming activities (in market gardening, lowland, and date-producing areas) will be lower than usual, more than half of which is normally earned by poor households between October and February and used to help meet their food needs through the end of April. Hot season market gardening activities will generate additional income between May and June.
    • There will be a normal pattern of migration with the overlapping of farming activities.
    • Livestock sales by poor households will be limited due to the nature of their small herds.
    • Without cold season rains, the lean season in pastoral areas will last through the end of June. The lean season for pastoral populations normally lasts for only three months (June through August), with the cold season rains promoting viable new pasture growth and improving water availability. However, this area has not gotten enough rain to spur pasture growth and improve water availability since October 2011, which is one of the main indicators of the severity of the lean season in pastoral areas.
    • There will be very little milk production between January and March and throughout the outlook period.
    • Remittances and gifts to pastoral households will be more substantial than normal, a typical response in difficult years.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    Poor households will be able to meet only 75 percent of their food needs, which will put them in IPC Phase 2 (stressed) between January and March.  Expected government assistance (distributions of free food aid) between April and June could improve the coverage of annual household needs to 80 percent. With these households normally buying 85 percent of their food supplies, this is still a large gap, particularly with the expected reduction in income. The steady rise in prices with the beginning of the lean season will weaken terms of trade as households are forced to continue to resort to the use of animal feed. Even with the government’s pastoral assistance program, it is unlikely that poor pastoral households will be able to generate enough income to meet their own food needs and those of their livestock. However, in keeping with local custom, family members with jobs in government and the private sector will step up their remittances, which should stabilize conditions in IPC Phase 2 (stressed) and prevent food insecurity from reaching crisis levels (IPC Phase 3).

    Events that Might Change the Outlook



    Impact on food security conditions



    Rise 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 cereals, 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.

    Ineffectiveness of the pasture protection program

    Multiple brush fires would ravage pasturelands, resulting in unusual herd movements by transhumant livestock and an earlier than usual reliance on animal feed.

    Expansion and/or escalation of the conflict in Mali

    Disruption in labor migration by members of poor households looking to fill the gap created by the shutdown of assistance programs. Suspension or sharp reduction in cereal trade, which will probably tighten cereal supplies, triggering an atypical rise in prices. Strong competition by refugees and local populations engaged in seasonal activities. Creation of overgrazing problems by the presence of refugee livestock herds, possibly triggering earlier than usual seasonal migration to grazing lands in western and southern agropastoral areas.  Sharp drop in prices due to the lack of sales outlets for livestock, with most of the animals of poor households generally going to buyers in Mali.

    Agropastoral areas (LZ 5)

    Epizootic outbreak

    Little or no positive seasonal impact by livestock-raising activities on household food security.  Large losses of livestock, serving as one more contributing factor in weakening the herd rebuilding capacity of poor households.

    Pastoral and oasis areas (LZ 2)

    Heavy cold season rains in February

    Improvement in pastoral conditions and water levels in dams, increasing the size of viable areas for the growing of flood recession crops and the incomes of farm workers employed in these activities. 

    Figures Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, January 2013

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, January 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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