Women play a crucial role combatting food insecurity in Mauritania

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By Irene Peiro, Spanish Red Cross

The village of Tchout, Mauritania, has not a single man living there; all have moved to towns in search of work. The lack of rain has halted agricultural production in the area, leading to a serious shortage of food. Some of the women have also left to look for jobs as domestic workers, so that the population of the village, which normally exceeds 1,800 inhabitants, now has half that number.

Tchout was one of the villages visited by a team from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies assessing food security problems in Mauritania. In this village, the team detected two cases of malnutrition among twelve children. The money and food sent by home by those who have left to work elsewhere does not go far.

The case of Halima, a 32-year-old woman and mother to four boys, is an obvious example. Eight months ago, her husband went to Nouakchott, the capital, where he worked as a laborer. Throughout this period, she received only 25kg of rice and 5kg of oil from her husband.

Tenwakoudeil, a village 45 km from Nouakchott, in the district of Wad Naga, is in a similar situation. Many men have gone to Nouadhibou, a coastal city, to fish. In this village, women's weaving cooperatives and small scale trading are practically the only economic activities that allow families to survive.

Agricultural production has been non-existent this year in the village, and farmers are struggling to feed their animals. To survive, they have started selling them at lower prices. Access to safe water and sanitation is also a major problem here. The only source of water for the village is a well 30 meters deep, which serves both people and animals.

The village of Roti is also suffering the effects of poor rainfall: people do not have enough water for rain-fed crops and have no money to buy the products needed to sow expensive drought resistant grain.

High demand and low availability pushes up prices. Normally, the price of a sack of wheat is 12euro, but villagers are now paying 20euro per sack.

However, unlike other villages, gardening activities are fairly well-developed in Roti, with few crops of melons, cowpeas and millet for home consumption and trading. In this area, the Mauritanian Red Crescent, with partners from a number of National Societies, have been running programmes to help and encourage gardening activities, growing food that is less dependent on abundent rains.

The lack of rain has a massive impact on food and farming, leaving several thousand people in the country hungry. But there are still positive experiences like those of Roti and in areas of the Brakna and Gorgol. Often, women are the ones driving the change and establishing practices which can help feed their families and communities.