afrol News, 14 March - Unexpected heavy rains earlier this year in the Sahelian north of Senegal and south of Mauritania seem to have caused more damage than blessings on agricultural production. An estimated 1272 hectares of cultivated lands were lost in Senegal alone, according to a government assessment. Economic losses are estimated at 2 billion franc CFA (3 million euro).
The extraordinary precipitation, totally out of season, beat down on northern Senegal and southern Mauritania between 9 and 11 January. The Senegal River, separating the two countries, flooded and erosion caused significant damage on cultivated lands. The Senegalese Ministry of Agriculture now has assessed the damage.
In several localities, such as Podor in Senegal, the recorded three-day rains represented more than half of the normal annual precipitation. The rains had an abrupt and unusually forceful character, causing instant erosion on the dry lands. "It was the worst experienced within living memory," the US agency Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS) recalled in a report published yesterday.
The Senegalese Ministry reported of significant harvest losses of millet and sorghum already stored on the fields. Also rice fields and horticulture had suffered from the devastating rains and the connected occurrence of rats and other pests.
There was also significant damage to livestock due to the humidity, the exceptional cold weather during the storms and the three days were feeding had been impossible. Some 50,000 cattle and 550,000 ruminants are estimated to have been lost and many more have lowered their resistance and quality. In addition, pasture and the crop waste products were completely destroyed, further jeopardising livestock survival chances for the rest of the season.
FEWS describes the situation in Senegal's northernmost provinces Saint-Louis and Louga as "an economic and social catastrophe." The interior zone of the Mauritanian part of the Senegal River Basin was hurt in a nearly equally dramatic way. While northern Senegal not is the most fertile zone of the country, the Senegal River is the principal agricultural zone of Mauritania.
Despite the destructive rains over Senegal and Mauritania, however, the general food situation in the Sahel was assessed positively by FEWS, also in the two affected countries. The entire region had achieved a record cereal production during the 2001-02 harvest.