Mauritania Monthly Report Jul 2002: The main rainy season has not started

Originally published

This report covers the period from June 30 to July 30, 2002


The rainy season has not yet begun in most farming and herding areas of the country. Cumulative rainfall totals at most weather stations are down from the same time last year and below-average compared with the period from 1996 through 2001. A large part of the crops planted in the far southern reaches of the country along the Malian border (between Maghama Moughataa in Gorgol Wilaya and Djiguenni Moughataa in Hodh El Chargui Wilaya) were lost as a result of insufficient rainfall. Certain farmers have already begun replanting, but many have decided to wait for more rain before doing any more planting. Farmers and herders in extremely food-insecure areas (livestock-raising areas of Trarza Wilaya and all moughtaas throughout the Senegal River Valley and Aftout and in central Hodh El Chargui and Hodh El Gharbi Wilayas) are still waiting for the first useful rains (> 20 mm).

Grazing conditions in the central and southwestern parts of the country are especially alarming, where losses of sheep and cattle are mounting quickly. Overgrazing in areas still in good condition (southern Maghama, Sélibaby, Kankossa and Bassikounou Moughataas) has reached the point where it is impeding normal grass growth. In their state of confusion, migratory herders are desperately trying to get their animals to grazing areas in Mali and Senegal, where there is a relatively good supply of fresh pasture. In the process, they are finding themselves in the position of being forced to sell off any enfeebled or exhausted animals that slow them down along the way.

Grazing conditions in the south and east, which had improved considerably during the month of June, are once again deteriorating due to the massive influx of animal herds from the north (the Adrar, Inchiri and Tagant regions) and west (the Brakna and Trarza Wilayas). Food insecurity levels are soaring in the Senegal River Valley and Aftout, where the remaining members of households shrunken by mass migration are holding on by a thin thread, thanks to survival strategies centered primarily on the careful management of small remittances from migrant relatives. Despite repeated appeals for assistance by the World Food Program (WFP) and regular information supplied by the FEWS NET project and the Food Security Observatory (OSA) confirming the need for outside aid, the donor community has still not responded, maintaining that the government has yet to declare a state of emergency.

Rises in coarse grain prices have pushed consumers around the country into the outstretched arms of local merchants. The sizeable rollbacks in coarse grain prices on markets in border areas and in Nouakchott in the month of June were short-lived, followed, in mid-July, by a surge in prices for all types of local and imported foodstuffs. These price hikes are especially steep in rural areas of the country, where there is virtually no competition and where the limited purchasing power of local people is forcing heads of households to resort to borrowing or to accepting loans at exorbitantly high rates of interest.


I A. Rainfall

The only part of the country which saw any rainfall whatsoever in the second dekad of July was the area of southeastern Mauritania between Guidimakha and Hodh El Chargui. Even in this area, rainfall totals were low (between 5 and 50 mm). A look at cumulative seasonal rainfall totals shows only four weather stations (Gouraye in the southern part of Sélibaby Moughataa, Toufoundé Civé in the southeastern corner of Kaëdi Moughataa, M’Bout in eastern Gorgol and Timbédra in southwestern Hodh El Chargui) with above-average rainfall totals compared with the period from1996 through 2001. Brakna and Trarza posted the largest rainfall deficits. Except for the Kaëdi station with a figure of 10 mm, weather stations in all other farming and livestock-raising areas of these regions posted absolutely no rainfall. Comparisons of this year's rainfall against the average and against the same ten-day period of 2001 yield more or less the same results. The entire southwestern part of the country is reporting a rainfall deficit. Ominously, all areas of the country classified as extremely foodinsecure since November of last year (the Senegal River Valley, Aftout, Kobonni) are experiencing a longer-than-usual dry season (Figure 1).

With the exception of crops planted in depression (bas fonds) areas in Guidimakha (Selibaby, Ghabou, Wompou) and southeastern Hodh El Chargui (eastern Bassikounou Moughataa), crops are beginning to wither everywhere else because of negative water balances..

I B. Grazing Conditions

All grazing areas of Trarza and Brakna are still bare, with herders systematically resorting to the use of animal feed in an attempt to improve the physical condition of their cattle and sheep. In Gorgol, conditions in eastern Kaëdi and southeastern M’Bout Moughataas have improved. The condition of vegetation throughout Mauritania and in border areas of Mali and Senegal is much worse than last year and far below average compared with the period from 1996 through 2001. This state of affairs is attributable to the current « mad dash » by herders to get their animals to grazing lands in more hospitable areas of neighboring countries (central Senegal and southwestern Mali) (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Comparison of Vegetation Conditions based on NDVI for the second dekad of July, 2002

The satellite image for the second dekad of July (Map 1) shows emergent annual vegetation in southern Guidimakha (southern Sélibaby Moughataa) and Assaba (southern Kankossa Moughataa) and in localized areas of Hodh El Chargui (in southern Timbédra and Djiguenni Moughataas). Elsewhere, the ground is still bare of any plant cover.

A comparison against the average and the same ten-day period last year reveals a sizeable deterioration in Normalized Difference Vegetation Indices (NDVI) in all parts of the country. The green-colored portions of the second image comparing current NDVIs against the average (Map 2) including the entire western part of the country and extending into northern Senegal do not reflect the presence of any actual green biomass, with readings by AGRHYMET for the ten-day period, showing no rainfall whatsoever at any weather stations in these areas.

The deterioration in the state of vegetation is even more striking in the comparison against the same period last year, which shows current vegetation indices well below last year's indexes throughout the entire southern part of the country along the Malian border, which is the leading farming area for dieri (rainfed highland) crops (Map 3).

Patterns of seasonal migration have unexpectedly been thrown off course, with herders already en route to their home bases in Mauritania heading back into southwestern Mali.

I C. Update of Crop Production by Type of Farming System

The only farming activities in progress at this time involve dieri (rainfed) and irrigated crops. Other types of crops (lowland crops, crops subject to controlled flooding and walo or flood recession crops) are not planted until after the recession of the floodwaters and runoff in October and November.

Diéri (rainfed) crops: Sorghum and maize crops planted at the end of June in depression areas in southern Guidimakha (Sélibaby Moughataa), Assaba (Kankossa Moughataa) and Hodh El Chargui (Timbédra, Djiguenni and Bassikounou Moughataas) are in the tillering and early height-growth stages of the growing cycle. Regional offices of the Ministry of Rural Development and Environment (MDRE) are reporting that crops planted on high ground or in sandy soils are beginning to wither in the wake of the deterioration in their water balances in the absence of any rainfall. In general, these are all early-maturing varieties of crops. Farmers in other parts of the country are still waiting for the first useful rains to begin planting.

Irrigated crops: Hot off-season (February to June) crops for what, this year, has turned out to be an especially mediocre season in all parts of the country are currently in the heading and maturation stages of the growing cycle and are facing heavy pressure from grain-eating birds.

Many village cooperatives have decided to invest internally generated funds in the farming of rainy season crops. Generally, when rainfall conditions are poor, farmers will fall back on irrigated crops. Government price cutting measures (lowering the cost of fertilizer and seeds) have prompted a number of cooperatives to resort to internal financing, since the size of their debts with the Farm Loan Bank (Crédit agricole) rules out any further borrowing.

I D. Conditions in Agropastoralist Areas

Despite improvements in Normalized Difference Vegetation Indexes in localized areas of southern Sélibaby Moughataa in Guidimakha, Kankossa Moughataa in Assaba and Timbédra and Djiguenni Moughataas in Hodh El Chargui, farming and grazing conditions nationwide are still generally poor. To simplify matters, Mauritania can be divided into two main areas (Figure 3):

1. A better-off area, extending from southern Sélibaby Moughataa in Guidimakha to the northern reaches of Bassikounou Moughataa in Hodh El Chargui; and 2. The rest of the country, where conditions are categorized as "substandard," in which vegetation indexes are lagging behind last year and are below-average compared with the period from 1996 through 2001.

I D1. Areas in Good Condition

Hodh El Chargui: The satellite image in Figure 3 shows cumulative seasonal rainfall totals of over 100 mm in Djiguenni Moughataaand Fassala Néré District in Bassikounou Department. Right now, this area has the best farming and grazing conditions in the country.

Guidimakha: The southern part of Selibaby Moughataa shows the best farming and grazing conditions in this area. Rainfall rates in the Gouraye area (in the far south of this Moughataa) are above-average compared with the period from 1996 through 2001 (+ 40 mm).

Assaba: There is a large agropastoralist area in good condition in central and southern Kankossa Moughataa. However, this information needs to be confirmed in the wake of the massive influx of animal herds from the northern and western reaches of the country into this area.

I D2. Areas in Average Condition

Conditions in southern M’Bout Moughataa and eastern Maghama Moughataa in Gorgol have visibly improved, but are still more or less average.

I D3. Areas in Poor Condition

Farming and grazing conditions elsewhere in the country are poor, particularly in farming areas of the Senegal River Valley, Aftout and southern Hodh El Gharbi (Kobonni and Tintane Moughataas).


Thus far, no steps have been taken to make up this year's grain deficit which, according to the latest figures published by the Programming, Monitoring and Evaluation Office (DPSE) attached to the Ministry of Rural Development and Environment, stands at 204,589 metric tons. Despite repeated appeals for assistance by the WFP and FEWS NET, there is still no announcement of food aid forthcoming from the donor community. Steadily rising prices for imported grains and other foodstuffs are making it that much harder to fill the gap in coarse grain production. The volume of Malian exports has declined. The unpromising outlook for this year's rainy season could prompt Malian vendors to take a more cautious stance. Mauritanian consumers in both rural and urban areas are being forced to resort to bartering, in light of limited prospects for future food aid distributions. The European Union has just announced the availability of 6,000 MT of foodstuffs for use in the event of an emergency. The WFP has just ordered another consultation meeting for purposes of drawing up an emergency action plan for the Sahel.

II A. Areas in Good conditions

Access to water resources in the southern and eastern reaches of the country has improved. Rainfall amounts are still too low to have enough of an effect on farming activities for farm families to count on this food source. In contrast, the food situation of herders in these same areas has visibly improved, despite the massive influx of animal herds from other parts of the country.

II B. Areas in Average Condition

Barring an extended dry spell, depression area crops planted back in June should soon be entering the height growth stage of the growing cycle. Goats and sheep are already grazing on fresh pasture in these areas, where the thickness of new vegetative growth depends on the type of soil and latitude. However, the physical condition of the cattle population is such that a number of herders are bent on selling off their animals. The improvement in the physical condition of small animals should strengthen the purchasing power of local herders and improve their ability to afford food products sold commercially. Cowpea crops have begun to form edible leaves.

II C: Areas in Poor Condition

The effects of the distribution of free food aid back in June were short-lived. Households throughout the Senegal River Valley and Aftout are, once again, facing serious food insecurity problems, holding on thanks to survival strategies centered mainly on the careful management of remittances from migrating family members and borrowing against future harvests and remittances. Area households are still being classified as extremely foodinsecure.


III A. Conditions Nationwide

There has been very little change since June. The grain deficit still stands at 204,589 metric tons, but domestic markets have ample supplies of grain (rice, sorghum, wheat, millet) and staple foodstuffs (oil, sugar, tea, etc.). As of July 30, no meaningful steps had been taken to help reduce household food deficits in rural areas of the country. Thus, while food availability is still satisfactory in terms of the state of market supplies, food access problems are becoming increasingly serious in both rural and urban areas.

The food situation is especially serious in slum areas of large cities (Nouakchott and Nouadhibou), where the purchasing power of households swollen by the influx of recent immigrants from the countryside is being eroded by steadily rising prices for food products.

III B. Current Food Situation in Neighboring Countries

An examination of the satellite images for the second dekad of July comparing the current condition of vegetation against last year and against the five-year average (Figure 2, Maps 2 and 3) shows deterioration in Normalized Difference Vegetation Indices for both Mali and Senegal. Conditions in Mali are somewhat more mixed, with the southwestern part of the country showing well-developed herbaceous vegetation (Figure 2, Map 1), which explains the massive influx of animal herds from Mauritania and the reversal in the direction of their normal migratory movements. A number of Mauritanian herders in seasonal grazing areas in Mali had started to head back to their home bases after the June rains. Rainfall conditions in northern Senegal, in the area sandwiched between the two arms of the Senegal River (referred to as the island of Morfil) are similar to those in southwestern Mauritania.

According to travelers from Adel Bagrou and Bassikounou, trading in grain on weekly markets in Mali in areas along the border with Mauritania has been cut back yet again and prices for different types of sorghum are up by anywhere from 10 to 18 per cent, depending on the variety. Current uncertainties over the outcome of this year's growing season could prompt Malian vendors to cut back their supply of grain.

III B1. Supply of Food Staples and Price Trends

Retail prices for imported staple foods are up sharply on all consumer markets. Nevertheless, supplies are still relatively ample on all urban markets, as well as in regional outlets operated by the National Import and Export Company (SONIMEX). The price of Siam rice on the Nouakchott market, for example, jumped from 180 UM/kg to 200 UM/kg between June and July, while the price of vegetable oil climbed from 240 UM/liter in June to 270 UM/liter in July.

Most regional markets have run out of coarse grains. The price of sorghum on the Kaëdi market, which generally gets its grain supplies from Kayes (in Mali) during the slack season, had dipped by 15 UM in June, only to jump back up to 150 UM in July, putting it 5 UM above the May price, or 145 UM.

Many herders are thinning their herds as they embark on their seasonal trek. By July 24, "four seasons" cows en route to seasonal grazing lands in Senegal were selling for 30,000 UM each in Bababé Moughataa, or 27 per cent below their June price and 58 per cent below their December price. Though meat supplies have improved considerably, this has not brought prices down.


Food insecurity levels are soaring in the Senegal River Valley and Aftout, where the remaining members of households shrunken by mass migration are holding on by a thin thread, thanks to survival strategies centered primarily around:

1. Borrowing against future harvests at usurious interest rates; and

2. The careful management of small remittances from migrant relatives working in the city or at informal sector jobs in Senegal and Mali.

Thus, as was the case in June, residents of areas in poor condition are still experiencing food insecurity problems. However, communities in central Aftout, Hodh El Chargui and Hodh El Gharbi do have better access to drinking water.

Sedentary herders have boosted their purchasing power by hiking up the price of small animals.

Food access in periurban areas of Nouakchott, Nouadhibou and Zouerate is becoming increasingly difficult. Malnutrition rates in slum areas of Nouadhibou have increased considerably due to the job crisis in the fishing industry, the city's largest employer.


Herders in southern Hodh El Chargui and Hodh El Gharbi (in northern and central Amourj, Bassikounou, Djiguenni, Timbédra, Kobonni and Tintane Moughataas) are no longer included among the at risk population. The improvement in grazing conditions in these areas has given them a regular supply of milk and boosted the market value of their animals. In contrast, farmers in these same areas (approximately 16,000 individuals) are still being classified as extremely food-insecure.

The food situation in Aftout and the Senegal River Valley is getting steadily worse. Access to water resources in the southern part of Magta-Lahjar Moughataa, the western reaches of Barkéol Moughataa and throughout M’Bout Moughataa has improved to some extent. The water situation in the southern part of Aleg Department, the northern reaches of Boghé, Bababé, M’Bagne and Kaëdi Moughataas and all of Monguel Moughataa is still serious, where farmers and herders alike (some 46,000 individuals) are still being classified as extremely food-insecure, some of whom freely admit that they have no strength left to work their land even if the rains do come. In fact, the countryside has been stripped of its work force, which is currently off looking for work in urban areas. The only remaining residents of small farming villages are old people too weak to make the move to the city.