- Mauritanian flood plain cultivators this year had to give up on their grain harvest and have already cut the crops to be able to sell the straws as fodder for pastoralists. The hungry months have started two months earlier than usual in southern Mauritania.
Angered by the poor development of the cultivations of the flood plain and by repeated dromedary intrusions into the fields, the flood plain's peasants of southern Mauritania have anticipated the cut of the stems of sorghum and other food crops. This year's end product of the region therefore will be limited to animal fodder to be dried and sold on urban markets later on.
According to the latest Mauritania food security update, published today by the US agency Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS), "there will be no cereal harvests for households in the [Senegal] River valley and in the Aftout region before October." The lean months - the period of poor food access - for agricultural households thus has already started, several months earlier than normally.
According to FEWS, the problems in Mauritania's flood plains - normally the country's most productive agricultural lands - started early in this agricultural season. Lack of funds, provoked by several years of poor harvests, had prevented farmers from irrigation measures. Further, dromedaries and cattle on several occasions had invaded the fields, diminishing any hope of producing a harvest that would pay labour costs.
By harvesting the sorghum stems for fodder production, at least some revenues were secured for the food plain households. Nonetheless, households now have no grain stocks and will have to look for alternative strategies to secure their livelihoods until the rainfed October harvests.
While the market prices for food crops are rapidly rising in the areas affected by the total crop failure, other parts of Mauritania however are experiencing lowered prices. Imports from Mali - were harvests have been good and which counts on an improved road connection with Mauritania - are arriving at high quantities and low prices, FEWS reports.
The Malian-Mauritanian cereals trade usually starts in May but has already now reached large dimensions. According to FEWS, Malian farmers are however reported to slow down cereal exports to Mauritania, probably with an aim of achieving higher market prices.
FEWS has nevertheless observed three continuous months of lowered cereal prices in urban markets in Mauritania. This, says the US agency, in particular has provided relief for the many poors of the shanty towns of the capital, Nouakchott. It is believed that the declining prices subsequently will reach the rural markets in the river valley and the Aftout, thus providing relief for the households hit by crop failure.
Regarding the pastoral situation in Mauritania - the country's livestock industry is of even greater importance than agriculture - the situation is reported to be positive. Due to good rains over most of the country, even in desert regions, pastures are reported to be good. Strong sand containing winds however are now causing a rapid degradation of the pastoral conditions in several areas of the interior.
Finally, the desert locust plague, which has befallen most of Mauritania's north, may develop into an even greater disaster, FEWS warns. As most locust swarms are moving from Mauritania and Western Sahara into Morocco and Algeria, control measures in Mauritania have almost come to a halt due to lack of funds. The operations would already have stopped totally if Algeria had not donated more than 25,000 litres of pesticides.
- The locust situation is now critical, warns FEWS. Generally, there was not an immediate threat for Mauritania, but locust swarms could start moving south-westwards into Mauritania's major pastoral zones and reach the southern forested regions. This, says the agency, could create an ecological disaster and devastate cultivations and pastures. FEWS repeated FAO's urgent call for increased international funds to control the locust plague.
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