- Harvests in Mauritania's 2003-04 agricultural season are satisfactory but not enough to mend the crisis that has hit poor households for over two years. In particular, residents of urban slum areas still are observed to be "highly food-insecure".
Earlier harvest forecast for the season that had estimated gross production at 194,608 metric tonnes have had to be adjusted downward. In fact, flood-recession farming areas in southern Mauritania are expecting rather large production shortfalls.
Also the bas-fonds (bottomland) areas have experienced serious problems. Although yields here had been favourable, farmers had to advance the date of their harvests - originally scheduled to begin at the end of December - due to pests arriving in the first half of December. This has severely diminished production.
Further, all parts of the country are still under heavy pressure from locusts. Swarms of locusts were sighted in Nouakchott in early December, then heading towards the country's principal farming areas in southern Mauritania. Treatment efforts are underway, but available resources are not up to the task. The Mauritanian government has requested assistance from its development partners.
Due to the ongoing harvest, food insecurity levels are steadily falling in rural areas of the country. This respite could however be short-lived, the US agency Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS) warns in a report on Mauritania published today.
Food security is threatened by the small percentage of annual regional food needs met by local production - anywhere from 1 to 5 months, depending on the region - and the large debts accrued by local farmers during the past several years of poor harvests.
Food availability is currently ensured largely by commercial imports, emergency aid and harvests of rainfed crops. The very good harvests in neighbouring Mali and Senegal also assure grain availability at relatively low prices.
- Grain imports from the Nioro and Kayes regions of Mali are picking up, but are being channelled to urban markets, FEWS observed. Here, just south of the Mauritanian border, harvests this season have been "exceptionally good". Trade is facilitated the enormous improvement in transportation conditions with large segments of the road linking the two countries already paved and open to traffic.
Stepped up trade with Malian grain traders suggests that farm families in southern Mauritania could benefit from market surpluses, where permitted by their purchasing power. However, "the truth is that these are all poverty-stricken areas whose residents have very little purchasing power," FEWS says.
- Even with the temporary decline in poverty rates in these areas, large numbers of farm families are still battling food insecurity problems and their future food outlook is highly dependent on harvest prospects for bas-fonds crops, the agency adds.
Further, food access is becoming increasingly limited in fringe areas of local seats of government and urban slum areas of Nouakchott, Nouadhibou, Kiffa and Kaëdi. Residents here were "still highly food-insecure, but there are still no assistance programs in place in these areas."
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