MAURITANIA* (8 February)
The food situation remains critical in Mauritania. The Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission that visited the country recently, estimated 2004 cereal output 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. The diéri (rainfed) crops, which normally account for approximately 30 percent of the total national cereal harvest, were seriously damaged by both locusts and drought. Loss of millet, early sorghum and legumes was nearly total in all areas visited by the Mission. The mission estimated that 30 percent of rice crops in the large scale irrigated sector - accounting for more than 90 percent of rice production and 50 percent of national cereal production in recent years - has been devastated by desert locusts but farmers feared far greater losses if the swarms were still present during the grain filling stages. Pastures have been severely affected and early southern movement of livestock herds has already started. The country has already faced several years of drought and poor harvests and the ability of the Mauritanians to cope with this situation has been exhausted. Access to food is difficult for thousands of rural households and the situation will get worse if appropriate actions are not taken to assist affected communities. The country could sink back into a food crisis similar to the one it faced in 2002/03.