afrol News, 27 March - The consequences of January's storms for Mauritania are getting clearer. While Sahelian neighbours are observing record harvests, Mauritania heads for significant crop production shortfalls. Cereal prices have climbed to a critical level in several parts of the country, affecting the ability of the poor to buy food.
According to the last Mauritania report by the US agency Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS), the aftermath of the storms' damages are now "forcing disaster victims to alter their traditional lifestyles." Countless families, having lost everything, have "no way of engaging in any sort of productive or income-producing activities before the upcoming rainy season."
The heavy off-season rains affecting northern Senegal and southern Mauritania have deprived many households of their livelihood, the first assessment studies now reveal. Losses of stock animals linked to these storms are estimated at 89,720 sheep and goats, 14,720 head of cattle, and 1,011 camels, but these preliminary figures could go even higher because of the lasting negative effect on pastures, FEWS assesses. The importance of these stock animals for the prevention and management of food crises was "a recognised fact."
Grazing conditions throughout the entire south-western part of the country have rapidly deteriorated in the wake of the rains that pelted the area 9-11 January. Withering grasslands have begun to rot, FEWS reports.
The Mauritanian areas with the poorest food security outlook are those affected by the January storms. The Senegal River Valley and Aftout had already had a string of poor grain harvests since 1996. "In the wake of the January rains, what now appears to be turning into a structural deficit has been further heightened by the loss of part of this year's irrigated grain and vegetable harvests" and the deaths of small stock animals.
Not all the country had a negative food security outlook, however. The interior, south-eastern zone of Hodh El Gharbi, for example, experienced a "promising" outlook, particularly in Affolé, which is one of the region's largest grain baskets. Grazing conditions in the parts of the country not affected by the storms are generally good, reflecting the positive situation for most of the Sahel this year.
Mauritania however needed to find way to make up this year's national production shortfall, estimated at 165,298 metric tons. Aggregate losses could be as much as 33 percent of nationwide rice production and 13 percent of total "walo" or flood recession crop production, in addition to livestock losses. Food relief has not been substantial yet.
Traditional grain prices thus continue to rise despite some ongoing emergency relief programs. "The volumes of wheat injected into markets in disaster areas are simply not large enough to control price hikes," FEWS notes. There was no food availability problem in urban areas, although prices were increasing.
Meanwhile, farmers and herders in the Senegal River Valley are surviving on illegally imported grains (rice and wheat) from Senegal, the report says. Losses of small stock animals have stripped local farmers and herders of their main crisis management tool, "forcing them to alter their lifestyles. "
There are reports of mass migration by area residents into northern Senegal, either hoping to benefit from aid handouts or in search of employment in farming areas. However, this Senegalese area was also heavily affected by the January storms and experiences high food insecurity.