GIEWS Country Briefs: Mauritania 10-January-2012

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Estimates for the 2011 harvest point to a sharp decline in coarse grains production.

Cereal prices are, unseasonably, on the increase across the country

As of November 2011, about 838.000 people were estimated to be food insecure

Urgent actions are needed to prevent a further deterioration of the food security situation

2011 coarse grains production severely reduced by irregular and insufficient rains

Harvesting of the 2011 cereal crops was completed in December. Dry spells and poor rainfall distribution during the growing period (July to October) resulted in a sharp decline in cereal production. The 2011 cereal output was estimated by a joint CILSS/FAO/FEWSNet Crop Assessment Mission at some 117 000 tonnes, about 53 percent below last year and 39 percent below the previous five years average. The most affected areas are the rainfed agriculture zones, where the cereal production recorded a 78 percent decrease compared to last year, and the pastoral and agropastoral zones (especially Trarza and Tagant regions), where the prolonged dryness negatively impacted pasture conditions and lowered the level of water points.

High cereal prices affect access to food

Mauritania is a food-deficit country where domestic cereals production only covers one third of the national utilisation requirement in a normal year. The country is highly dependent on imports of coarse grains (millet and sorghum) from its neighbours Senegal and Mali, as well as wheat purchased on the international market. Food prices are therefore a key factor to access food by the majority of the Mauritanian people. Prices of sorghum, which had been stable since the beginning of 2011, recorded sharp unseasonal increases in the last months (+50 percent from August to November) due to the poor harvest and high prices in neighbouring exporting countries, following reduced 2011 availabilities. Wheat prices are stable and close to the levels of the same month last year; however, in November, they were still 50 percent higher than in June 2010, when they started to increase following trends in international markets.

Food and agricultural assistance needed as the food security situation is likely to deteriorate further A large segment of the Mauritanian population relies on traditional agriculture and livestock related activities to maintain their livelihoods, and is in a state of chronic vulnerability due to unpredictable seasonal rains and climatic conditions. Moreover, the high import dependency rate for food exposes the population to fluctuations of the global market, keeping poor households in cycles of indebtedness and poverty.

According to a joint WFP/ OSA (Observatoire de la Sécurité Alimentaire) survey, in July 2011, 428.000 people, almost one fourth of the households in rural areas, were food insecure. In November, the estimated number increased to 838 000, and given the poor harvest this year it is anticipated that this could increase to 1.2 million by January 2012 if urgent actions are not taken.

The moderate acute malnutrition rate (MAM) of children under five years of age is increasing, and will likely deteriorate further to severe acute malnutrition (SAM) unless early action is taken. The highest malnutrition rates have been recorded in Brakna and Gorgol regions, in the south of the country.

In order to respond to the likely food and nutrition crisis, the Government launched the Plan EMEL (Hope) on 10 November 2011 and has requested for assistance from the international community. Through this plan the Government is planning to provide subsidized cereal sales trough government shops and livestock fodder to people affected by food insecurity.