- After a very good rainy season, the "best pastures since 1988" are emerging throughout Mauritania. Signs are good for an utterly needed revival of the country's livestock sector, which has lived through years of heavy losses due to drought and natural disasters.
According to the newest Mauritania report of the US agency Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS), all of the country has recorded precipitation totals higher than those of 2002 and than the average of 1971-1990. Except for Nouakchott, the Mauritanian capital, the distribution of the rains had been "very good" in all of Mauritania.
While these good rains have created exceptional grazing conditions all over the country, also the agricultural districts in southern Mauritania are profiting the rainfed cultures sown in July and August - mainly millet, sorghum and water melons - are soon to be harvested and are reported to have given good yields.
Due to the previous years of drought and destructions by torrential rains, the rural population however had been impoverished, with a resulting lack of seeds. The agricultural potential of the good rains thus had not been sufficiently appreciated, the FEWS report indicates. Nevertheless, Mauritanian government officials envisage the largest harvests since 1996, well above average.
These good to moderate harvests will presumably be supplemented by a significant increase in livestock herds, as grazing conditions in the semi-desert country are reported to be the "best since 1988," according to observations made in the field. "The pastures are dense and rich everywhere," according to FEWS.
The rains of at the end of September and October had even reached the central and northern provinces of Mauritania, which are firmly placed within the Sahara desert. Even in the Saharan province of Trarza - surrounding Nouakchott - pastures had developed where they until now had been "practically non-existent," FEWS reports.
Risks still loom, however. The Mauritanian countryside is entering the season of bushfires, which, if not controlled, could consume great parts of the promising pasture. FEWS advises the Nouakchott government to strictly implementing its programmes of avoiding bushfires. Fires had however already been observed "devastating pastures" in several southern provinces.
Also the spread of desert locust swarms is causing great concern. Swarms have been observed grouping since the beginning of October, and locusts are observed reproducing at a frightening rate in the north of the country.
The locust swarms, which can consume the entire agricultural production and pastures of an area within days, are still not brought under control and the Mauritanian government has pleaded its foreign cooperation partners to assist in control measures.
If the bushfire and locus risks are controlled, however, the livestock sector is bound to revitalise. The country's many small-scale farmers heavily depend on livestock for food security and sales revenues. During the last years, livestock herds have been decimated due to several natural disasters.
Animal health in Mauritania is still causing concerns, FEWS reports. "The animals are weakened by several years of poor nutrition," the US agency says, and many will "face difficulties" on the long way to the pastures. In general, however, the FEWS report is extraordinarily positive on the prospects for Mauritania's livestock sector.
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