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Outlook points to a longer pastoral lean season

  • Remote Monitoring Report
  • Mauritania
  • October 2021
Outlook points to a longer pastoral lean season

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Delayed planting of the season's crops due to the late onset of the rainy season, as well as the impact of long dry spells, is having significant consequences for agropastoral production and income potential for poor households, particularly in the agropastoral (MR07) and rainfed cultivation (MR09) zones (see Figure 1).

    • Highly dependent on rainfall, pastoral areas have been severely affected by deficits and long dry spells. As such, all livelihood zones in the north and northwest are experiencing moderate to severe rainfall deficits compared with an average season, which has had a negative effect on pasture growth. Seventy-eight percent of monitored weather stations are recording a deficit compared with last year and 53 percent are recording a deficit compared with normal levels (1991 to 2020), according to Specialized Technical Group data from September 2021.

    • With crop yields below average for a normal year, declining incomes from the slow-to-recover economy, and a below-average outlook for dry season production, livestock farmers and poor households are expected to face a long and harsh agropastoral lean season (April to October). 


    As in most Sahelian-Saharan countries, the agricultural season draws to a close in the last 10 days of September with sporadic to light rainfall and seasonal deficits across 78 percent of the posts monitored, as well as moderate to severe rainfall in the northern and northwestern parts of the country in particular (see Figure 1).

    Despite the relatively dense pasture along the country's border with Mali, the high number of transhumant herders from both countries is beginning to deplete its potential. Domestic transhumance has reduced because of the lack of sufficient pastoral areas. Most transhumant livestock is still restricted to rainfed cultivation zones and are unable to cross the border, where crop fields have matured. However, the livestock in the pastoral zones in the west of the country (Trarza, Brakna, Gorgol, and Tagant) are largely transhumant, traveling to Senegal and Mali. In response to below-average pastoral resources, many households are destocking more animals, creating a surplus of animals on the market. In addition, the below-average physical condition of the livestock is contributing to below-average prices, especially at the markets in the east of the country and primarily in areas with a significant pasture deficit (in the agropastoral zones of Hodh El Gharbi, Hodh Ech Chargui, Assaba, northern Gorgol, Brakna, and Tagant).

    This situation is expected to persist and even worsen in the coming months. Poor pastoral conditions have delayed the return of transhumant herders, whereby the lack of milk production has increased demand for other food products in markets. The late arrival of the rainy season, the irregularity and the poor spatial and temporal distribution of the rainfall, and the poor conditions in pastoral zones have led to a decline in the seasonal supply of and access to milk and a drop in the income that livestock farming households receive from sales. On the other hand, milk availability is continuing to improve in the southeastern part of the country (in the east of the rainfed cultivation zone) due to favorable pastoral conditions.

    The two main lean seasons during the year are from May to September in the rainfed cultivation and agricultural zones and from April to July in pastoral zones. This year, seasonal household income is significantly lower than average in all of these livelihood zones and both lean seasons are expected to last a month longer than usual. In agricultural zones, the poor temporal and spatial distribution of rainfall has led to a sharp decline in the amount of pastureland available for use by households, and the supply of and demand for agricultural labor have been very low. In an average year, households in the rainfed cultivation zone and in the south of the agropastoral zone begin consuming their short-cycle crops (sorghum, maize, cowpeas, sorrel, and groundnuts) toward the end of September. However, the delay in cultivation due to the late onset of the rainy season and the impact of lengthy interruptions in rainfall have caused crops to mature later. Households in these agricultural zones, like those in other areas, continue to rely almost exclusively on the market for food. The Specialized Technical Group, a joint venture between the government and partners in charge of monitoring the planting season, noted in its August 2021 report that most of the walo (floodplain) along the Senegal River and in the southwestern agropastoral zone did not experience sufficient flooding and will therefore not produce typical yields. In pastoral zones, insufficient pasture and lower seasonal milk production and livestock prices have led to a fall in household income from the sale of milk and livestock.

    In urban areas, income for poor households continues to be affected by the slow recovery of the informal sector and the tertiary sector from the pandemic’s overall economic slowdown and low investment levels (remittances). The distribution of cash by the humanitarian community and the government has been one of the main sources of income. Although assistance from humanitarian programs fell in September, government-initiated distribution operations are ongoing.

    Inflation is still influencing the prices of staple foods in general; as such, food prices are continuing to rise in all formal markets (Figure 2). The government's Emel stores in Nouakchott and in the interior of the country are not sufficient to meet household demand, and those opened by employers are only in the capital. The price increase that, until September, only affected certain imports, now affects all products, including local goods. All these indicators suggest that the lean season will come early and that it will be long, with far-reaching effects on the purchasing power of poor households.


    This year, the country's agricultural season was characterized by the late onset of rains, resulting in a delay in planting and a significant rainfall deficit compared to average. Long and repeated dry spells have had a severe impact on the planting of seasonal crops and the maturity of the harvests; there was livestock damage in crop production areas and limited flooding in the walo region (the main production section of the valley area and the southwestern agropastoral zone).

    The below-average agricultural activities that produce food and generate income mean that households will be dependent on markets earlier than usual. Lower supply and higher demand will keep prices above average through May.


    Lower-than-average availability of pastoral resources has also forced transhumant livestock farmers to move to southern areas earlier than usual.

    The pastoral lean season will be longer and transhumance to the southern regions and to neighboring countries will increase. Farmers will have to destock more to provide food and water for their animals.

     Staple food prices are above the five-year average, especially for imported products, which has a negative effect on households' purchasing power

    The next annual harvests of off-season crops are expected to be below average as the low level of water in the reservoirs will lead to a decrease in planted areas and yields.

      In urban areas, the residual effects of the pandemic are expected to limit the demand for employment in the informal sector, resulting in lower incomes for poor urban households and seasonal migrants.


    • Thanks to the success of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign and the implementation of health passes to access and control entry into major cities, fixed consumer markets (both urban and rural) are functioning normally. However, the residual negative effects of the pandemic on income have reduced the number of buyers, as well as activity and frequency of purchases at livestock markets.
    • One of the notable consequences of the pandemic in the country has been the sharp drop in remittances from the diaspora due to the slowdown in economic activity in migrant-receiving countries. This decline in transfers has been significant in regions with high emigration rates (Guidimakha, Gorgol, Assaba, Hodh El Gharbi, Hodh Ech Chargui, and Tagant) and has had an adverse effect on access to food and contributed to the high prevalence of malnutrition (UNICEF SMART survey, August 2021).
    • The export-oriented commercial fishing industry also experienced a decline in activity due to reduced demand in Europe and Asia. The situation is expected to continue to improve with the resumption of demand in countries that have signed fishing agreements with Mauritania.
    • A good recovery of economic activity is expected, particularly in the tertiary and informal sectors. The country is witnessing a return of investment, the regulation of external and internal flows of staple foods, and the resumption of financial transactions and flow of goods from neighboring countries, such as European and Asian nations.
    • Inflation in the prices of staple foods recorded on the markets since September is expected to be regulated with the recovery of economic activity and the revival of internal and external flows of imported goods and livestock.
    • The lowland crop and irrigated areas did not have the desired flood levels, and their next off-season harvests are expected to be below average for a normal year.
    • Poor households in the rainfed cultivation zone are expected to have to live off their current crops, remaining pastoral resources, and remittance income, despite preventive destocking and in the face of a decline in income from agricultural work. Across the country, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity is expected to continue through January 2022. Between February and May, households are likely to become more dependent on markets earlier than usual, with lower incomes, which will degrade their purchasing power. It is also likely that there will be more animal destocking than in a typical lean season, as it will become more difficult for farmers. In addition to their own purchases for consumption, they will have to buy more supplementary feed (rakkel) for livestock and also spend more to support transhumance to neighboring countries to the south (Mali and Senegal). Livelihoods are expected to deteriorate, but the poor will continue to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity from February to May.
    Figures Figure 1. Significant rainfall deficit for Mauritania, Seasonal Rainfall Accumulation Percent of Normal by pentad, May to Sep

    Figure 1

    Figure 1.

    Source: USGS/EROS

    Figure 2. Comparative price (MRU) of main foodstuffs in Aleg Market, Mauritania, October 2020 and October 2021

    Figure 2

    Figure 2.

    Source: FEWS NET


    Figure 3


    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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