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Deteriorating food security in central, southern and southeastern Mauritania

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Mauritania
  • June 2018
Deteriorating food security in central, southern and southeastern Mauritania

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • ·Although consumer markets are well stocked with imported food (rice, oil, sugar, tea, pasta), the continuing rise in their prices since the month of Ramadan (May) is limiting poor households’ access to them. The fall in livestock prices and the lack of seasonal rural income-generating activities are reducing poor households’ seasonal incomes.

    • ·Faced with significant deficits in agricultural production and pasture, and difficulties in accessing water and income, poor rural households have been experiencing a longer and more difficult lean season since January (instead of March or April) than they would in an average year. In certain parts of agropastoral zones – the Senegal River Valley and the rainfed crop area – many households are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    • ·Assistance programs run by the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) (Action Against Hunger, Oxfam, Save the Children, Caritas, Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development (ACORD), the French Red Cross, Médecins du Monde, etc.) are under way in parts of certain livelihood zones. They involve free distributions of food and livestock feed as well as cash transfers and nutrition support for malnourished children and breastfeeding or pregnant women. However, they are still inadequate to meet the needs reported by humanitarian workers.


    Current Situation

    Agroclimatic situation: While seasonal temperatures of inland areas are markedly higher than those in an average year, temperatures in coastal regions remain well below seasonal averages. Torrential rains have begun to hit the east, center and south of the country, causing flooding.

    Agriculture: The demand for seeds has already led to large rise in the prices of sorghum, maize and cowpea in agricultural zones. This rise is more marked in zones that are far from Mauritanian markets (fixed or weekly) in border areas, which are supplied through destocking by Malian farmers. No agricultural activity is currently under way in zones that are entirely dependent on rainfall (agropastoral zone and rainfed crop zone). However, in the Senegal River Valley zone, the hot off-season irrigated crops are maturing, and land is continuing to be prepared for winter crops. The areas to be harvested and those that will be cultivated are smaller than those in 2017, which were already smaller than the five-year average. Due to their failure to repay previous debts, some farmers (collective and private) have not had access to agricultural credit and will therefore not cultivate their land.

    In the oasis zones, the date harvest is under way. The harvests in Adrar are considered to be average, but those in Tagant and Assaba, which were affected by low groundwater levels due to the rainfall deficit, are markedly smaller than those of 2017, which were smaller than those in an average year.

    Pastoral situation: Pasture is virtually non-existent in most of the country. The concentrations in the host areas of southern Guidimakha, Assaba, Hodh El Gharbi and Hodh Ech Chargui have reduced with departures for Mali’s pasture zones. The use of livestock feed, which has been systematic since April, is becoming increasingly expensive and difficult due to the fall in Malian exports. At Adel Bagrou market, the price of a 50 kg bag of Malian livestock feed, which had been MRU 700 at the beginning of the month, rose to MRU 1,500.

    Locusts: The situation is calm according to the National Center for Locust Control (CNLA).

    Eco-farming: This sector’s activities are limited to the sale of timber, charcoal and straw from rice or wild plants, which are only sold in the south of the country. The sale of charcoal and timber is in fierce competition with butane gas sales, which is brought into rural areas by traveling tankers to be offered for sale. Although the price per unit (MRU 200 per 25 kg bag of charcoal and MRU 600 per cartload of timber) has increased, the decline in the quantities sold has reduced households’ income from these sales by about 60 percent over the same period in an average year. No wild products are currently being picked.

    Income: Apart from the work in irrigated farming areas in the valley and oasis palm groves, there is no other agricultural activity likely to require paid agricultural labor. In the first zone, primarily in southern Trarza, labor prices are stable. However, due to the decline in farmed areas, the reduction in working time has led to a fall in poor households’ incomes, which are approximately 30 percent lower than in an average year. The wages of permanent employees (between MRU 3,000 and 4,000) remain stable. Incomes from livestock sales are at their lowest levels since 2015, due to the combined effect of the fall in prices and number of animals to be sold. Those originating from migrants are still low and on average are 80 percent below the level in an average year. In certain communes in agropastoral zones, rainfed crop zones and the Senegal River Valley, humanitarian organizations (United Nation agencies and NGOs) are making cash transfers (MRU 2,400 per household), which will provide households with a regular income over the next four months.

    Cross-border flows: Now that seasonal destocking by Malian farmers has resumed, flows of traditional cereals have become markedly larger in comparison with the previous quarter. However, due to high demand from transhumant herders on Malian land, flows remain smaller overall than those of an average year. Flows of rice from Senegal, which are checked by customs officers in both countries, also remain small. Flows of vegetables and fruit from North Africa are steady and provide an adequate and regular supply to the Nouakchott market, which then supplies the country’s interior markets.

    Consumer markets: The formal market and government shops are being regularly stocked with staple foods. However, since May, there has been a continuous upward trend in the prices of these products which is increasingly worsening the terms of trade for livestock and cereals at the expense of households. Compared with the same period in 2017, the biggest rises are affecting sorghum (up by 53 percent in the agropastoral zone, 18.42 percent in the oasis zone, 81.8 percent in the Senegal River Valley and 50 percent in the rainfed crop zone). These price increases are due to the low level of seasonal supply, which is due to the significant deficit in the production of this cereal and the rationing of Malian transfers between April and May. In addition, the shift in demand from sorghum to wheat, which is already in high demand among livestock farmers (as livestock feed), has increased the price of this imported cereal. In all livelihood zones, the increase in wheat prices, which is a common occurrence during the lean season (April and August), is markedly higher than in an average year. This increase is about 10 percent in the agropastoral and rainfed crop zones and reaches 62 percent in the center of the Senegal River Valley, where the low seasonal production levels of local rice makes it the main substitute cereal for sorghum.

    Livestock markets: All livestock markets are poorly stocked. In addition to the effects of long-distance transhumance, there has also been a reduction in livestock numbers, which is limiting supply. Furthermore, the deterioration in their physical condition has led to a large fall in demand for sheep and cattle. Although sheep and cattle prices at all markets have fallen continuously since the beginning of the year, they are relatively stable compared with the same period in 2017 and the five-year average. This situation has been caused by the significant pasture deficit in pastoral areas between May and July over the past five years.

    Food and nutrition: The food situation is continuing to worsen for poor households in all zones with significant agricultural and pastoral activities. In addition to the decline in seasonal agricultural production, there has also been a fall in households’ incomes (which are used to buy food) and difficulties with regular and adequate access to water. In most livelihood zones, these households have changed their eating habits by consuming wheat and pasta instead of sorghum and rice. They have also reduced the sizes of their meals (from a quarter to half) and even limited themselves to two or one a day (compared with three under normal circumstances).

    Although the conditions for global acute malnutrition (irregular and inadequate food intake, difficult access to water, poor dietary diversity, etc.) are present and higher than in an average year in most livelihood zones, Action Against Hunger surveys show that alert threshold levels with rates that are close to or even higher than the critical threshold levels under World Health Organization standards are only present in Guidimakha (17 percent) and Hodh Ech Chargui (13 percent). In the Amourj department, nine deaths caused by malnutrition have just been reported. The information communicated by our price investigator in Adel Bagrou was confirmed by the Food Security Commission (CSA).


    The most likely food security scenario from June 2018 to January 2019 is based on the following underlying assumptions with regard to trends in nationwide conditions:

    Agroclimatic situation: Given the quantity and frequency of rainfall in the country in the final dekad (10-day period) of June, it is hoped that the season will start as normal, which will restart rainfed agricultural activities and encourage new pasture growth. Average rainfall in Mali and Guinea will ensure optimal flooding of the Mauritanian walo and raise river levels to a satisfactory level for irrigated winter crops (rice, maize and vegetables).

    Locusts: Although the locust situation has been calmed over the last few years by significant rainfall and pasture deficits, it may become critical between October and January resulting from a lack of monitoring in certain areas in the Sahel and Sahara due to insecurity. However, the CNLA is carrying out regular Agriculture: Land in rainfed crop and agropastoral zones could be worked on from the beginning of July. Issues in terms of access to seeds, the fear of similar rainfall to 2017 (with a lengthy cessation in July) and the fear of seeing their fields destroyed by returning transhumant livestock are factors that may lead to a reduction in the areas that will be planted with crops at the beginning of the season. This situation should particularly affect short-cycle crops which are sown at the beginning of the rainy season (during the first two dekads of July). It is therefore likely that the rainfed crop yield will be lower than that in an average year.

    Since the irrigated areas cultivated during the rainy season will be smaller than those in an average year, a decrease in irrigated crop yields (rice, maize and vegetables) is also to be expected.

    Pastoral conditions: Pastoral conditions will improve from mid-July onwards. However, given the climate forecasts, the likely rainfall deficits in the river valley zone and the southwest of the agropastoral zone should slow down pasture growth in these locations. Transhumant herders from these regions will have to delay their return and livestock farmers will continue purchasing livestock feed in order to sustain their livestock.

    Eco-farming conditions: Wild products will be gathered according to the normal seasonal timetable. Outside the zone likely to experience a rainfall deficit (the southwest of the country), yields will be close to the average.

    Income: Only incomes from agricultural work will increase between July and October due to the resumption of work in fields. Many poor people in this zone work as agricultural laborers on collective holdings in the valley. As the amount of land to be worked reduces, the number of laborers integrating in these areas will decrease, as will the income they earn from such work. The decline in incomes from Mauritanian migrants (a seasonal phenomenon) will continue throughout the scenario period as many migrants will return. Incomes from livestock sales will remain low until September but will then show a gradual upward trend until January. Incomes earned from the sale of wild products will rise between September and January 2019 to levels close to those of an average year.

    Commercial imports: Commercial imports and cross-border flows will be active in order to ensure that the country is regularly and adequately supplied throughout the scenario period.

    Markets and prices: Consumer markets will be well stocked with staple foods (rice, wheat, oil, sugar, etc.). Traditional cereal supplies, which are currently low, will improve gradually between September (when short-cycle crops are harvested) and January (when late rainfed crops begin to be harvested). The pressure on wheat will continue until September as will the upward trend in its price. This will only reverse from September with the harvest of short-cycle crops and pasture growth. Between June and September, any pressure on the demand for wheat will lead to a shift in demand for local rice, as this cereal is in short supply on the market (with a large fall in production during the hot off-season). A sharp increase in the price of this cereal is all the more likely, as customs checks on both sides of the Senegal River are limiting illegal rice exports.

    The government’s Emel shops, which sell food (local rice, wheat, sugar, oil, milk, etc.) at prices which are 30 to 40 percent lower than those on the formal market, will continue to operate normally throughout the scenario period.

    Livestock markets: These markets will be less stocked than in an average year throughout the scenario period. Sheep and cattle prices, which are currently very low, will follow a continuous upward trend from September, when harvests will limit livestock sales, and from August due to demand for Eid al-Adha. This trend could lead to seasonal levels that are markedly higher than those in an average year. Sheep and cattle numbers will be low, as the current food shortage will weaken animals, meaning they will only be able to reproduce after January.

    Food assistance: This is currently inadequate and will remain this way until January. Food assistance will be needed in the west of the agropastoral zone and in the center of the Senegal River Valley until January 2019, as the main agricultural harvests (lowlands, dams and walo) in these zones, which are currently in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), will only happen between February and March 2019.

    Most likely food security outcomes

    From July to September, the current food insecurity levels will follow a continuous downward trend. However, this trend will be slower than in an average year, due to the scale of the livelihood deficits. The Stressed (IPC Phase 2) situation over this period will be stabilized.

    From October to January 2019, in the center and east of the agropastoral zone, in the rainfed crop zone and in the pastoral and commercial zones, the Stressed situation will diminish thanks to pastoral supplies (though these will be smaller than in an average year due to the pastoral situation) and the rainfed crop harvests. For the same reasons, the areas that are in Crisis in the rainfed crop zone will move toward a Stressed situation. However, this could only improve and lead to minimal food insecurity if yields of late crops harvested between December and January are good enough to strengthen the positive impacts of the improved pastoral conditions and if seasonal Malian cereal flows are typical, thus lowering the prices of cereals and legumes. Only poor households in the west of the agropastoral zone (the departments of Moudjéria, Monguel, Magta Lahjar, northwestern M’Bout and southern Aleg) and center of the Senegal River Valley (Boghé, Bababé, M’Bagne, western Kaédi), which are facing significant livelihood protection deficits and excessive debts (3 to 4 months’ consumption), are likely to remain in Crisis until January.

    Figures NMME June to August 2018: rains below average in the  Senegal River Valley

    Figure 1

    Figure 1. North American Multi-Model Ensemble (NMME) June to August 2018

    Source: NOAA/NMME

    NMME July to September 2018: Rains near normal or slightly above normal in the south of the country

    Figure 2

    Figure 2. NMME July to September 2018

    Source: NOAA/NMME

    Mauritania seasonal calendar  Flood recession planting is from October to December. Off-season planting is from February to m

    Figure 3


    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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