Mauritania Monthly Report Jun 2002: Prices of traditional cereals are dropping

Originally published


Rainfall totals since the end of May are still too low to trigger the start-up of farm work, except in a narrow strip in the southern reaches of the country along the Malian border between Maghama Moughataa in Gorgol Wilaya and Djiguenni Moughataa in Hodh El Chargui Wilaya. Farmers there began planting crops at the end of the first dekad (in southern Guidimakha, Hodh El Chargui and Hodh El Gharbi Willayas) and during the second dekad (in Assaba Wilaya) of July. There has been little if any rainfall in any other Moughataas, particularly in those classified as extremely food insecure (Moughataas in livestock-raising areas of Trarza Wilaya, the Senegal River Valley, Aftout and central Hodh El Chargui and Hodh El Gharbi Wilayas).

Grazing conditions continue to deteriorate in the western and central parts of the country, where many herders are being forced to resort to commercially-sold animal feed to try and save weakened animals (primarily cattle and sheep). Moreover, losses of cattle in Aftout and Trarza in January of this year were colossal. The plunge in cattle prices (by 31 per cent) is a reflection of the dilemma faced by herders caught in a vicious cycle. In effect, with their sickly animals unable to make the trek into Mali and inadequate pasture reserves to keep them alive, the only way for herders in the western and central parts to cut their losses is to sell their animals. In contrast, the situation of herders in the south and eastern parts of the country is steadily improving.

The degree of food insecurity is steadily mounting. Despite appeals for assistance by the World Food Program (WFP) and FEWS NET, a number of donors have indicated that they intend to wait until the government declares a state of emergency before coming forward. Yet, the latest bulletin from the Food Security Observatory (OSA) talks about a surge in malnutrition in a number of wilayas and fresh outbreaks of a number of diseases (malaria, diarrheal diseases) in the wake of the deterioration in food security and recourse to survival strategies by virtually all households in rural areas of the country.

Food access in the north and in urban slum areas continues to deteriorate as prices for staple foods move steadily upward. Already extended urban households continue to take in latecomers as mass rural-urban migration picks up with the delay in the start-up of the growing season in Aftout and central Hodh El Chargui and Hodh El Gharbi. In contrast, in Guidimakha, there are reports of a heavy reverse migration from large cities as people return to help with cultivation.

Prices for traditional coarse grains are falling on markets in border areas and in Nouakchott, while prices for imported foods increased between May and June. The stabilization of sorghum prices in Brakna Wilaya is attributable to the infusion of part of the wheat distributed by the Food Security Commissariat (CSA) into the local market. Meat prices are still climbing, but fish prices have leveled off since May.


I A. Rainfall

The rainy season is getting off to a late start in farming and livestock-raising areas of the country, particularly in areas already classified as extremely food insecure (such as Kankossa, Selibaby and Kobonni), where rainfall totals are way below average (Figure 1).

Theoretically, wet-soil planting activities in southern Guidimakha (Selibaby, Ghabou, Wompou, Bouly) and southeastern Gorgol (Maghama Moughataa) should be getting underway after the rain on June 5th. In Hodh El Chargui and Hodh El Gharbi, where farmers customarily dry-plant crops in sandy soils, wet planting activities may have started up after the rain on June 17th.

I B. Grazing Conditions

Grazing conditions are especially poor in Trarza, Brakna, and northwestern Gorgol, where problems of sparse vegetation were aggravated by the damage caused by unseasonable rainstorms in January. Conditions throughout the rest of the country are generally good, except in Tintane and Kiffa Moughataas, where brush fires have burned several hectares of pastureland.

With the onset of the rains, fresh grass is already sprouting in the southeastern corner of Maghama Moughataa in Gorgol and along the Malian border (Figure 2). Large numbers of animals are moving towards these areas from Gorgol and Assaba. Enfeebled animals in Trarza and Brakna are unable to travel long distances, and local herders are forced to substitute animal feed for pasture in an effort to save their herds.

Normalized Difference Vegetation Indices (NDVI) for the southwestern part of the country (the Senegal River Valley and livestock-raising areas of Rosso, Méderdra and R’kiz Moughataas) are way below average. The same is true for the entire northern portion of farming and livestock-raising areas of Assaba, Hodh El Chargui, and Hodh El Gharbi.

In contrast, vegetation indices for the entire area running along the Malian border between Maghama Moughataa in Gorgol and Bassikounou Moughataa in Hodh El Chargui are clearly above average.

Comparison of the current dekad with the average and with the same ten-day period of 2001 shows that current conditions are below-average and worse than at the same time last year except along the south-eastern border.

Migrating animal herds are still sticking to their regular routes. Herders have begun returning to Mauritania from grazing lands in Mali.

I C. Production Update by Type of Farming System

At this point in the season, available information refers exclusively to the following two types of farming systems:

Diéri (rainfed upland crops): Planting activities are already underway in southern Guidimakha, Hodh El Chargui and Hodh El Gharbi Wilayas and in Kankossa Moughataa in Assaba Wilaya. According to information furnished by regional offices of the Ministry of Rural Development and Environment (MDRE), farmers are earnestly preparing to plant early variety seeds in depression areas.

Irrigated crops: This year's hot off season (February to June) was especially mediocre in all regions of the country, particularly for village cooperatives. Only small areas were planted due to a combination of inadequate rainfall and the presence of large numbers of stray animals.

I D. Assessment of Conditions in Agropastoralist Areas

The only part of the country in which the growing season is effectively underway is the far south-east, along the Malian border.

I D1. Areas in Good Condition

Hodh El Chargui and Guidimakha: Rainfall during the second dekad of June was followed by the emergence of the first seedlings in Hodh El Chargui and an improvement in the water balance for crops and pasture in southern Guidimakha. Improvements in Normalized Difference Vegetation Indexes (Figure 2, Image 2) in neighboring areas of Mali are reassuring to herders in both these regions.

Assaba: The only Moughataa in good condition this early in the season is Kankossa Moughataa.

Gorgol: The heavy rains on June 5th (61 mm) were followed by reports of the emergence of crops and the sprouting of fresh pasture. However, crops and pasturelands in sandy soils are beginning to feel the effects of the dry spell during the second dekad of June.

I D2: Areas in Average Condition

Comparatively speaking, conditions throughout the central portion of crop and stock-farming areas of Hodh El Chargui, Hodh El Gharbi and Assaba are average.

I D3. Areas in Poor Condition

Conditions in farming areas of the Senegal River Valley and Aftout are still poor.


The Programming, Monitoring and Evaluation Office (DPSE) attached to the Ministry of Rural Development and Environment has just published its final figures for the 2001-02 crop year. According to these figures, net nationwide grain production is only 88,669 MT, versus the projected figure of 120,757 MT. This 26.6 per cent shortfall confirms the warning first issued by FEWS NET last December, at the end of the growing season. This brings the grain deficit up from the 172,501 MT estimate issued in April to 204,589 MT, Despite the larger than expected deficit and repeated warnings from the World Food Program and FEWS NET, the donor community is still slow in responding to appeals and the WFP has yet to raise the US$7.5 million in aid needed to help the 246,000 inhabitants of Mauritania classified as food insecure. As of June 23, WFP had succeeded in raising only US$500,000. It has advanced US$1,000,000 from its own reserves to attend to the country's most pressing need, until donor aid is forthcoming from the donor community.

II A. Areas in Good Condition

The food situation is gradually improving in all areas that are experiencing above-average rainfall, as access to water resources becomes less of a problem (rainwater being used for human as well as animal consumption) and new vegetative growth provides fresh pasture. It is still too soon to speculate on the beneficial effects of this new growth (leaves of bean plants, leaves of wild plants, and so on), but if the same pattern of rainfall reported during the third dekad of June continues, farmers in Hodh El Chargui, Hodh El Gharbi, Assaba and Guidimakha may soon be able to supplement their milk production.

II B. Areas in Average Condition

This month's rains have improved the situation of farmers in central Hodh El Chargui and Hodh El Gharbi who, up until this point, had been classified as extremely food insecure. While there is still obviously not enough rain to guarantee that emerging grasses and crops will continue to do well, these recent rains nevertheless helped improve the availability of surface water resources. Good rainfall in nearby areas (in the southern part of both regions) is also comforting to local farmers.

II C. Areas in Poor Condition

The food security situation in the Senegal River Valley and Aftout continues to deteriorate despite distribution of food aid by the WFP throughout June of up to 25 kg of wheat per household. The delay in the start-up of the growing season and the depreciation in the value of animals due to physical wasting is forcing local residents, still classified as extremely food insecure, to continue to resort to survival strategies centered on borrowing food and money and on mass migration.


III A. Conditions Nationwide

The final coarse grain production figure for the 2001-02 crop year (88,669 MT) pushed the nationwide grain deficit up from 172,501 MT to 204,589 MT. This 26.6 per cent shortfall from the projections used to draw up the grain balance sheet for the period ending in November of this year is proving especially hard to manage, considering the following:

  • farmers have had no carry-over reserves after three consecutive years of poor harvests;
  • the January storms decimated animal herds and caused heavy damage to natural vegetation, which are the cornerstones of food crisis management strategies for rural households; and
  • the already high prices of commercially-sold foodstuffs have been climbing steadily upward.

III B. Current Food Situation in Neighboring Countries

Satellite images for the second dekad of June show a visible improvement in vegetation conditions in border areas of Mali adjacent to Hodh El Chargui, Hodh El Gharbi, Assaba, and Guidimakha Wilayas. In contrast, conditions in border areas of Senegal are more or less the same as in the Mauritanian side of the Senegal River Valley. Mauritania's migratory animal herds in grazing areas in Mali have begun moving towards the border, getting ready to return to their home base. Grain trading in weekly farmers’ markets in southern Hodh El Chargui and Hodh El Gharbi is beginning to pick up. Apparently, reassured by the fact that the new season is beginning on schedule, Malian farmers have begun selling much more grain than they had been previously.

III B1. Supply of Food Staples and Price Trends

Markets have ample supplies of staple foodstuffs. Prices for traditional grains (millet, sorghum and maize) are moving downward on most markets in border areas of the country in the wake of stepped-up grain exports from Mali, where farmers and grain traders usually sell off a portion of their older grain inventories at the beginning of the rainy season. This year is no exception as farmers and traders in Mali have injected a large volume of rainfed sorghum onto the market. In Kaëdi, a market which gets its grain supplies from Kayes (in Mali), the price of a kilogram of sorghum has dropped by 15 UM. According to reliable informants, this is most likely sorghum from the year 2000 harvest that had been stockpiled by grain traders. However, this drop in price does not appear to be having any price-lowering effect on prices for other marketed food products, which continue to climb. Unit prices for Siam rice and sugar are up 10 UM from the month of May;the price of oil is up by 20 UM. The price of wheat flour is up from 90 UM to 120 UM, resulting in a visible tightening of bread supplies.

The situation of herder households differs from case to case but, in general, conditions steadily deteriorate moving from the southwest (which was spared by the January storms) westwards, towards Gorgol, Brakna and Trarza, which suffered extremely heavy damage.

The leveling off of sorghum prices in Brakna is the result of recent distributions of wheat in June.

The situation on livestock markets is mixed. On one hand, prices for fattened animals are up by 14.3 per cent from the month of April. In contrast, prices for lean animals such as sheep and cattle are down by 36 per cent and 31 per cent, respectively.

The average June price for sheep on the Kaëdi market was 16,000 UM, compared with 12,000 UM in May, an increase of 33 per cent (Figure 3). However, this 33 per cent increase in the price of sheep has only slightly improved the purchasing power of herders, as sorghum prices have risen 27 per cent within the same period.

Thus, the terms of trade for sorghum and sheep (the ratio of the price of one sheep divided by the price 1 kg of sorghum) have improved from the herders’ standpoint, with a sheep currently trading for 123 kg of sorghum compared with 83 kg of sorghum May. However, the same sheep went for 154 kg of sorghum back in December of last year, and has since lost 20 per cent of its value.

III B2. Food Access

There was little change in conditions between May and June. Many rural households in areas in poor and average conditions are still relying on borrowing against future harvests and prospective cash remittances or handouts of wheat to access needed foodstuffs. Any assistance from friends and family leaving the countryside for the city is paltry at best, since recent immigrants in urban areas are only able to find work in low-paying jobs in the informal sector. Thus, residents of areas in poor condition are still facing food insecurity problems.

Unfortunately, crops and pasture in areas in good condition are still at a stage where their beneficial effect on the diet of local residents is minimal, even in the case of herders and their families. The only visible large-scale improvement from a spatial standpoint is in access to water, thanks to the rainfall in the southeastern and central portions of the country.

Food access conditions in periurban areas of Nouakchott are steadily deteriorating, even more so under the dual effect of the water and bread crisis. There has been no regular water service in these areas since the beginning of June and housewives are lining up at public taps to draw water, particularly in urban slum areas. A 200 liter barrel of water regularly selling for 100 to 150 UM is currently going for 300 UM; the same size barrel is selling for 500 UM in urban slums farther from public taps. As for the bread crisis, bakers looking to raise the price of bread in the wake of regular hikes in the price of flour have cut back on weight and supplies.


The onset of the rainy season has brought with it a slight improvement in conditions for herders and agropastoralists in farming areas of southern Hodh El Chargui and Hodh El Gharbi (in the northern and central part of Amourj, Bassikounou, Djiguenni, Timbédra, Kobonni, and Tintane Moughataas). However, it is still too soon to say whether current conditions in these areas can significantly improve food security. Farmer households in these areas are still classified as extremely food insecure.

The food situation is steadily deteriorating throughout Aftout and the Senegal River Valley. Due to the extended drought and the late onset of the first rains, which have only now begun to fall, residents of Aftout are finding it increasingly difficult to access water resources. Down in the Valley, the river is heavily polluted by runoff. The volume of food aid (at most, 25 kg per household) distributed over the course of June to communities in the Valley and Aftout was too small to have any lasting effect on area residents, who need to build up enough strength for the exhausting work their fields as the growing season gets underway. Area farmers and herders alike are classified as extremely food insecure.