- The food situation in Mauritania "gives cause for serious concern," according to the latest review. Cereal production is set to drop 44 percent compared to last year and livestock production is suffering due to drought and heavy locust damages.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) newly released 'Africa Report', Mauritania is the country in West Africa currently causing most concerns. While most of West Africa has had good harvests this agricultural season, Mauritania is again hit by a set of negative impacts that will necessitate food aid in 2005.
A food supply assessment of Mauritania concluded that the 2004 cereal output was at some 101,192 tonnes, about 44 percent below last year and 36 percent below the previous five years average. "This was the result of drought and widespread desert locust infestations that caused severe damage to crops and pastures across the country," according to the FAO report.
The diéri, or rainfed crops, which normally account for approximately 30 percent of the total national cereal harvest, were "seriously damaged by both locusts and drought," the FAO assessment team had found. Rainfed crops include millet, early sorghum and legumes. Areas visited by the FAO team had experienced near a total loss of these crops.
Further, FAO estimated that 30 percent of rice crops in the large-scale irrigated sector have been devastated by desert locusts. Mauritanian farmers fear far greater losses if the swarms were still present during the grain filling stages. Irrigated rice has accounted for more than 90 percent of rice production and 50 percent of national cereal production in Mauritania in recent years.
Also in the important livestock sector, there have been large damages. Pastures have been "severely affected," the FAO study said. An early southern movement of livestock herds has already started.
The country has already faced several years of drought and poor harvests. Therefore, the ability of Mauritanian farmers to cope with this situation "has been exhausted," according to FAO. Especially two years ago, many rural households had to sell all their assets to survive the food crisis caused by torrential rains and drought.
The FAO report warns that "access to food is already difficult for thousands of rural households and the situation will get worse by early 2005 if appropriate actions are not taken to assist affected communities." Mauritania "could sink back into a food crisis similar to the one it faced in 2002/03," the report adds.
Mauritania is covering most of its cereal need by commercial imports and domestic production. Some 31,000 tonnes of food aid are also expected to arrive. There will however still be an uncovered deficit for the year is about 64,300 tonnes. If this is not covered, Mauritanians will face a food crisis.
The FAO report further says that a total of 23 African countries are currently facing emergencies. Most are due to civil strife, displaced people and drought. In 2004-05, food aid needs are expected to increase in view of production shortfalls in several countries.
In West Africa in general, FAO found that aggregate cereal production for 2004 will remain within the five-year average of 11.6 million tons, but droughts and locust invasions have caused severe localised damage to crops and pastures in many countries. Mauritania and Cape Verde are highlighted as the two countries facing the most serious food deficits in 2005.
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