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Households become increasingly market dependent as the start of the lean season sees high food prices

  • Remote Monitoring Report
  • Mauritania
  • February 2022
Households become increasingly market dependent as the start of the lean season sees high food prices

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  • Key Messages
  • NATIONAL OVERVIEW
  • PROJECTED OUTLOOK THROUGH SEPTEMBER 2022
  • Key Messages
    • Due to low levels of household income and the continuous rise in food prices, many poor and very poor households continue to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity, most noticeably from April/May to September 2022, particularly in rainfed, agropastoral, and pastoral areas. During the peak of the lean season from April to June, many households in these livelihood zones (although less than 20 percent of the total population in these areas) are likely to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    • Due to poor harvests in 2021/22 and high transportation and ocean freight costs, the prices of staple products remain higher than last year and the five-year average, both in Mauritania as well as across most of West Africa.

    • The 2021 pastoral season was characterized by negative biomass production (lack of vegetation greenness) in almost all areas – particularly in the Tagant and Assaba regions, in central and northern Guidimaka, in central and northern areas of the two Hodh regions, and in Gorgol – which lead to early, mass departures of transhumant herders to the southern parts of the country (Figure 1). Production and income prospects for poor households are expected to decline, particularly in the agropastoral (MR07) and rainfed cultivation (MR09) zones.

    • Adequately stocked markets remain the main source of food for almost all poor and very poor households, with regular internal and external flows of staple foods from Mali and Senegal. 


    NATIONAL OVERVIEW

    Transhumance and livestock markets: In the beginning of the dry season in Mauritania, mass migration of transhumant herders occurs to the southern regions of the country and to neighboring countries, including Mali and Senegal, in search of better pastoral conditions. However, due to the lack of rainfall each year and for the past ten years, the agropastoral areas of Mauritania and of the bordering countries are already subject to high concentrations of livestock exerting significant pressure on pastoral resources. Due to the 2021/2022 agricultural season’s rainfall deficit, Mauritanian livestock farmers are facing the early arrival of the pastoral lean season, which is reflected in a scarcity of fodder potential and surface water resources for livestock feed. Farmers have already resorted to purchasing livestock feed since the beginning of December 2021.

    Markets’ supply of livestock has significantly decreased, as has demand (particularly from Mali and the city of Nouakchott). This is mainly due to destocking that had already begun in November 2021, as did the movement of transhumant livestock to southern areas (Mali, Senegal). The low livestock demand is also directly linked to the high market prices of livestock in urban centers. The decrease in supply has slowed the rise in rural livestock prices and fostered demand as transhumance resumes, but prices still remain higher than last year at the same time when they were already well above the five-year average (Figure 2a).

    Despite identifying and establishing transhumance corridors for host populations to avoid conflicts and reprisals, transhumance-related incidents continue to occur. In December, a total of 41 incidents and movement alerts were recorded. These alerts mainly reported conflicts between herders and farmers, mostly related to the passage of livestock through fields, disappearances and theft of livestock, and bushfires, disrupting normal transhumance practices (Transhumance Movement Tracking Report, IOM, December 2021). The early departure of transhumant herders and the early pastoral lean season are significantly disrupting the income-generating activities of poor and very poor transhumant populations in pastoral and agropastoral areas of Mauritania, resulting in a deterioration/erosion of their livelihoods.

    Off-season crops: During this off-season, due to insufficient flooding of the walo (floodplains) and the depression areas, flood-recession crop harvests between January and March remain far below both last year's average and the average for a typical year. Crops in the depression and dam areas (in the Senegal River Valley) are developing normally and those at the most advanced stages are already heading. Vegetable crops are also at a very advanced stage and, in some areas (oasis and valley areas), they are already being sold and consumed. Despite the average water levels in some areas of the country, these cold-season harvests will barely cover two to three months of food consumption for poor and very poor households in these regions. Stocks from the principal harvests from the 2021/2022 agricultural season are almost completely depleted. Poor households’ low income and the anticipated increase in food prices will put them in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) from April/May until September 2022, particularly in the rainfed and agropastoral areas.

    Markets and staple food prices: Currently, and throughout the entire agricultural and pastoral lean season, the market is the main food source for most households, especially for poor and very poor households, with the exception of those in the dam areas, the depression areas of the Senegal River Valley, and the oasis areas.

    Internal and external flows of staple foods are steady and regular from Algeria, Mali, Morocco, and Senegal. Internal flows from Nouakchott to inland markets remain steady, despite the surge in demand from border areas. The border closures of Mali's most important port corridors, namely with Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire, following the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) economic sanctions imposed on January 9, 2022, has enabled Mauritania to fulfill external supply needs.

    Due to low agricultural production, product flow between regions of the country are significantly lower than in a typical year or similar season. Grains from the crop production areas (sorghum and cowpeas) in the February off-season (from rainfed lowlands and dams) were partly sold in areas experiencing deficits and in reference markets such as Kiffa, Tintane, Ghabra, Nbeika, Magta-Lahjar, and Kaédi. Staple food supply levels are average in local markets. Prices are still high compared to last year and the five-year average, due in particular to poor harvests in 2021/22 and the increase in the cost of ocean freight and customs duties (Figure 2b). The upward trend in food prices (both local and imported) is strengthening in all markets, particularly in rural and peri-urban areas. Household dependence on the market, which has already increased, will increase further as prices are likely to remain above average until the end of the lean season in September 2022.

    Household income: Currently, the staggered harvests in the Senegal River Valley (walo) and in the agropastoral zone (dams and lowlands) offer poor households cash-in-hand labor opportunities (crop farming; transportation; harvesting of sorghum, maize, and cowpeas, etc.).

    In the southern rainfed zone, income opportunities from post-harvest work (threshing, winnowing, etc.) are coming to an end. With the decrease in areas planted and the lack of resumption of informal activities in cities, most of the labor force is concentrated in mining areas (Zouérat, Akjoujt, etc.), in the artisanal fishing sectors in Nouadhibou, and in the informal activity sector in the border villages of Mali and Senegal.

    In urban and peri-urban areas, poor and very poor households’ income are affected by the lack of informal economic activities (labor activities and small trade). These poor and very poor households mostly depend on the informal sector, which is heavily saturated at this time of year. Wheat, pasta, and milk powder, which are used as substitute foods, are becoming staple foods due to their availability and comparatively lower prices. Despite heavily subsidizing products, most government and employer stores (EMEL stores) do not have sufficient supplies to meet demand nor to fulfill food and nutritional needs for households. To supplement daily rations, poor households most often resort to small informal activities such as trade and labor, especially in the mining and artisanal fishing sectors. This situation is expected to persist at least until the next harvest in September 2022.

    Food security situation: In addition to the agricultural and pastoral production deficits, a sharp rise in the price of staple foods is severely limiting access to food for poor and very poor households, whose incomes are diminishing. The early deterioration of the food situation among poor and very poor households in the country is a warning sign. There has always been a high prevalence of acute malnutrition in Mauritania, particularly in the Guidimaka region, according to the results of every nutrition survey from 2012 to 2021. These poor and very poor populations will likely be in Stressed (IPC Phase 2), most noticeably from April/May to September 2022.

    AREACURRENT ANOMALIESPROJECTED ANOMALIES
    National

    Negative biomass production (lack of vegetation greenness) in strictly pastoral areas in the Tagant, Assaba, Guidimaka, and Gorgol regions are leading to early, mass departures of transhumant herders to the south of the country.

    The lack of food- and income-generating agricultural activities means that households will be prematurely dependent on the market throughout the lean season until September 2022.

     

    Deficits in rainfed agricultural production and pasture, exacerbated by declining incomes and rising staple foods prices, have triggered periods of agropastoral hardship in many rural areas. This has increased dependence on the market, which has become the main food source for households.

    The already early pastoral lean season will be longer and there will be a greater reliance on transhumance movements to southern regions and neighboring countries.

     The prices of both local and imported staple foods are well above the five-year average, reducing the purchasing power of poor and very poor households.

    It is likely that there will be more destocking of livestock than in a typical lean season. Herders will have to cope with a more difficult and longer-than-expected lean season by making additional purchases to meet their own needs, as well as fulfilling their livestock feed needs (rakkal), and covering other expenses to fund their migration to neighboring countries in the south (Mali and Senegal).

      Given the current slow to recover economy and the prospect of a long and difficult lean season, both the price rises affecting local and imported staple foods and the decline in income for poor and poorest households will continue until the end of the lean season in September 2022. 

     


    PROJECTED OUTLOOK THROUGH SEPTEMBER 2022

    High food prices in markets are expected to continue until the next harvest despite increased market availability of agricultural products. The next harvest (in September) will revitalize the supply of seasonal agricultural products in local markets while allowing poor and very poor households to meet a significant amount of their food and nutrition needs.

    At the national level, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food security is expected through this month. Between February and May, households are likely to be more dependent on markets, at a time of reduced purchasing power and high market prices. The poor and poorest households are likely to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) from May to September, when the lean season ends and the growing season of the 2022/2023 main harvest period begins. Nevertheless, during the peak of the lean season from April to June, many households in these livelihood zones are likely to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3), although this will affect less than 20 percent of the total population of these zones.

    The onset of the rainy season in June/July is likely to improve food security conditions for most poor and very poor households in pastoral areas as it will spark the regeneration of pastoral resources, improving the physical condition and market prices of livestock. This period also sees the return of transhumant herders to their regions of origin and the resumption of work in fields to prepare the land for the next round of sowing. Growing demand for agricultural laborers will therefore generate a daily income that will allow households to at least partially meet their food and nutrition needs.

    Figures SEASONAL CALENDAR FOR A TYPICAL YEAR

    Figure 1

    SEASONAL CALENDAR FOR A TYPICAL YEAR

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. Biomass production anomaly, 2021

    Figure 2

    Figure 1.

    Source: Action Against Hunger

    Figure 2a. Comparative prices (Mauritanian ouguiya - MRU) of staple meat products in December 2020 and December 2021, Aleg ma

    Figure 3

    Figure 2a.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2b. Comparative prices (Mauritanian ouguiya - MRU) of staple foods in December 2020 and December 2021, Aleg market, Ma

    Figure 4

    Figure 2b.

    Source: FEWS NET

    In remote monitoring, a coordinator typically works from a nearby regional office. Relying on partners for data, the coordinator uses scenario development to conduct analysis and produce monthly reports. As less data may be available, remote monitoring reports may have less detail than those from countries with FEWS NET offices. Learn more about our work here.

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