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Visible decline in food insecurity in most parts of the country

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Mauritania
  • October 2015 - March 2016
Visible decline in food insecurity in most parts of the country

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Key Messages
    • After a late start to the rainy season, the adequate levels and good temporal distribution of rainfall since the end of August have fostered good pasture and rainfed crop growth and development. The national cereal production will be average to above-average levels, and pastures across the country will be in visibly better condition than in 2014. The food access of poor households will therefore improve.

    • Access to fresh agricultural products and milk, stable food prices, and wage income from farm labor will facilitate normal household food consumption in most rural areas of the country, and consequently most households will be Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity. Their food security will be strengthened by harvests of late-season rainfed and flood recession crops and the rising price of livestock between January and March.

    • Amourj and Diguent departments in the rainfed farming zone have been severely affected by the irregularity of rainfall. Short-cycle crop yields are noticeably smaller and the two-month delay in their harvests has extended the lean season into November. A significant part of this seasonal production deficit will be offset by yields of long-cycle crops (harvested in December this year), but poor households will continue to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security outcomes through January.

    • Despite average harvests and good pastoral conditions, smaller herd sizes and the impact of debt repayment obligations following several previously difficult years as well as significantly below-average seasonal incomes will keep poor households in the agropastoral areas of Tagant (Moudjéria department) and Gorgol (Monguel department and northern Kaédi department) in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) situations of food insecurity through March.

    National Overview
    Current situation

    Agricultural conditions: In general, the 2015/2016 growing season is progressing well. After a late start to the rains, the good temporal distribution of rainfall between August and October not only created reassuring pastoral conditions for livestock-raising households but also encouraged the normal growth and development of certain rainfed crops and established good growing conditions for flood recession crops.

    However, the late start of the rains and ensuing rainfall irregularities delayed the normal development of many types of crops. As a result, harvests of long and short-cycle crops (approximately 70 percent of traditional cropping areas in a normal year) will occur one to two months later than usual. With the increased rainfall at the end of August, farmers enlarged the size of areas planted in late season crops by more than 10 percent and planted crops in most flood recession areas. These latter crops are progressing normally. At the subnational level:

    • Households in agropastoral areas (in border sections of the rainfed farming zone) are starting to harvest sorghum crops and pulses and are proceeding to plant crops in lowland and flood recessional zones as floodwaters continue to recede from these areas.
    • In rainfed farming areas (along the border with Mali, from Maghama department and Gorgol to the far southeast of the country), the size of the area planted for rainfed crops is below-average and crop growth and development is delayed, with the most advanced crops in the sprouting stage and in some areas, harvests of short-cycle crops. There are reports of massive damage to seedlings in low-lying areas (basins, wadi beds, lowlands, etc.) from recurring floods.
    • The seeding and direct planting of irrigated rice crops in the Senegal River Valley continued through the end of September/beginning of October. These crops are developing normally. With the exception of Guidimakha, where all arable areas are being utilized as usual, the size of cropped areas in all other regions (Trarza, Brakna, and Gorgol) is smaller than in 2014 when the government decided to grant credit even to already indebted farmers.
    • Flood recession crops (in walo, lowland, and dam areas): Good farming conditions exist in all flood recession farming areas, generally planted in sorghum and cowpea crops, given the high flooding levels (>80 percent) and that farmers were able to obtain seeds.

    Seasonal incomes: The combination of a greater than average seasonal supply of labor with the smaller area planted in rainfed crops has sharply reduced seasonal incomes, which are completely dependent on farm labor. The late start of the rainy season has also limited internal labor migration, which is normally an important source of income for working household members. Farming activities for flood recession crops started on schedule (in October) and are progressing according to normal crop calendars, generating an average if not above-average stream of seasonal income.

    Pastoral conditions: Adequate levels of rainfall have visibly improved pastoral conditions in practically all agropastoral areas, particularly in the Assaba, Gorgol, Guidimakha, Hodh El Gharbi, and Hodh el Chargui regions. Although pastures across the country have noticeably improved compared to 2014, they are still not as lush as usual. The physical conditions of livestock, which were severely weakened by a long lean season (beginning in February instead of April), are improving, contributing to the increase in livestock prices. However, milk production is still limited due to the below-average numbers of new animal births.

    Retail markets: Retail markets are still well-stocked with imported staple foods (wheat, rice, oil, sugar, flour, etc.) whose prices have been relatively stable for the past several months but are still above the five-year average. Prices for locally grown cereal crops are also stable in spite of the delay in their harvest. For example, the price of sorghum on the Adel Bagrou market (in the rainfed farming zone) was around 130 MRO in September (compared with the five-year average of 145 MRO) and 209 MRO in Boghé (in the river valley) in September this year, close to the five-year average of 200 MRO. The stable prices of local and imported cereals are helping to improve food access for poor households.              

    Livestock markets: Livestock prices in pastoral areas are currently on the rise. The price of a sheep on the Aoujeft market was 44,000 MRO in September, compared with 42,500 MRO the month before. Overall, the terms of trade (price ratios for livestock versus cereals) in all livelihood zones are creating improved food access with the stable prices of cereals and the rising prices of livestock (Figure 1).


    The most likely nationwide food security scenario for the period from October 2015 through March 2016 is based on the following general assumptions:

    Agricultural activities:

    • Crop production: Annual crop production will be at least near-average if not above-average in spite of the expected decline in irrigated crop production due to tracts of farmland left idle for lack of farm credit. While yields of both short and long-cycle crops have been negatively affected by the late start of the rains and the ensuing rainfall irregularities between July and August, the escalation in rainfall activity in September helped to adequately flood lowland and dam areas (to between 80 and 100 percent of their capacity), creating good production prospects for late-season and flood recession crops (in walo, lowland, and dam areas).
    • Locust situation: The locust situation is still currently stable, but there are signs that this could change in the central and northern areas of the country, particularly in crop-growing areas behind the Inchiri dam (Figure 2). According to the Desert Locust Bulletin for October 2015, the FAO Emergency Centre for Locust Operations has predicted optimal environmental conditions for the growth of locust populations between now and next spring, even including the formation of concentrations of larvae and small groups of winged adults. The situation will need to be monitored in that it poses a threat to emerging flood recession crops and late season crops in the growing stage. However, at present, FEWS NET expects any crop damage from desert locusts to be similar to an average year.
    • Farm income: The reduced areas planted in rainfed crops as a result of the late start of the rainy season will diminish the need for related farm work, which is an important source of seasonal income for poor households between October and December. On the other hand, with the adequate flooding levels in flood recession farming areas (walo, lowland, and dam areas), these farming activities are expected to generate near-average income levels. Thus, as a whole, less income from farming activities is likely during the outlook period.

    Pastoral activities:

    • Pastoral conditions: Available pasture and water supplies are expected to meet the year-long needs of livestock, thereby limiting recourse to the use of animal feed in most pastoral areas (with the exception of feed supplements designed to increase milk production by dairy animals).
    • Wage income from pastoral work: Average levels of seasonal income from pastoral work will continue because temporary labor between October and March is rare. Salaries will remain fixed without the need to resort to additional pastoral labor. The already well-below-average levels of milk production from cattle, sheep, and camel herds will decrease even further as of January. By March, milk production will be very limited, which will reduce the incomes of agropastoral and pastoral households.


    • Food imports: Staple food imports (rice, wheat, sugar, oil, etc.) will be regular and adequate during the outlook period to meet domestic consumer needs and sustain a normal flow of re-exports to Senegal, Mali, and the southern Maghreb, where the sale of these commodities and manufactured goods serves as a source of foreign exchange.
    • Livestock markets: The reduced supplies on livestock markets in rural areas, in line with normal seasonal trends (between October and March), are due to the impact of harvests (of cereal crops and pulses) and the need to rebuild livestock herds. On the other hand, markets in urban areas will continue to be well-stocked with animals from the remaining surplus supplies of Tabaski (following a slowdown in sales) at least through the month of December. Market supplies will tighten between January and February as ongoing harvests and the lack of any religious celebrations during that period cause households to limit their sales of animals.
    • Livestock prices: Average livestock prices on urban markets will likely remain stable at their September levels until current inventories are depleted. Nevertheless, the steady rise in prices in rural areas since August will continue and could gain even more momentum between January and March, driving up prices by as much as 20 to 30 percent.
    • Cereal prices: In general, sorghum prices, following seasonal trends, will decline by 10 to 30 percent between October and March, depending on production levels and the state of retail market supplies. However, prices for flood recession sorghum and maize crops in flood recession farming areas will remain stable or inch upwards between October and November, but this trend will reverse itself with the end of the planting period (in December), with prices coming back down. Smaller price drops (of around five percent) could occur in certain pockets of production deficits in agropastoral areas and the central Senegal River Valley area. Prices for imported cereals (rice and wheat) will remain stable.

    Other major food security drivers:

    • Migrant remittances: With the return of migrant workers to farm their land, a sharp decline in remittances of 10 to 20 percent of lean season levels will follow and remittances will remain at these levels throughout the outlook period, in line with normal seasonal trends.
    • Wild plant products: With the exception of wild fonio supplies affected by the rainfall anomalies in July and August, near-average yields of all other wild plant products (Acacia products, red dates, baobab fruits, desert dates from the balanite tree, wild palm fruits, etc.) is expected.
    • Debt: Food supplies from livestock-raising activities and crops (between January and March) will significantly reduce recourse to food loans between October and March. Between January and March, part of the harvest in all rural areas affected by crop production deficits between 2013 and 2015 will be used to pay off debts from these past seasons.
    • Assistance programs: Established programs such as government-subsidized shops referred to as “Boutiques de Solidarité” (BS), village-level food security stocks (SAVS), school meal programs (CS), and nutritional therapeutic feeding centers (CRENAMs) will continue to operate across the country. Humanitarian assistance for Malian refugees in the M’Bera camp will be a regular and adequate during the outlook period.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    Food insecurity levels in most farming and pastoral areas will gradually improve between October and December with the harvests of rainfed crops and livestock-raising activities. Poor households in areas of southwestern Tagant and northern Gorgol which had been in Crisis (IPC Phase 3 and 3!) until September because of large shortfalls in cereal production and below-average incomes during the 2014/15 consumption year will progress towards the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) level of food insecurity. Poor households in other parts of the country will resume their regular seasonal livelihoods, bringing food insecurity down to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) levels. The exceptions are in pastoral oasis areas with cultivated wadis (where flood recession crops are less frequent) and transhumant pastoral areas (without any farming activities during the outlook period) where conditions will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    Harvests of late season rainfed and flood recession crops between January and March 2016 will strengthen food security conditions in farming areas. However, large shortfalls in short-cycle crop production have extended the lean season in agropastoral areas (in Moudjéria and Monguel departments and northern Kaédi department), where poor households are having difficulty coping given that they had already sold off the majority of their livestock to buy food during recent challenging years. This struggle will compound the impact of their markedly below-average seasonal incomes and larger than usual debt repayment obligations. As a result, poor households will continue to have difficulties accessing food and will be forced to abandon even essential nonfood spending, which will keep their food security situation Stressed (IPC Phase 2) at least through March 2016. 

    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 Current food security outcomes, October 2015

    Figure 1

    Current food security outcomes, October 2015

    Source: FEWS NET

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. Terms of trade for livestock/wheat on the Aoujeft market

    Figure 3

    Figure 1

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2. Desert locust sightings in West Africa in October 2015

    Figure 4

    Figure 2

    Source: FAO

    Figure 5


    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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