FAO starts seed distribution in Mauritania
Trucks with more than 500 tonnes of seeds are on their way to the countryside
13 June 2008, Rome – Trucks loaded with more than 500 tonnes of seed left the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott today for six regional capitals, marking the beginning of FAO-supported emergency measures in the country forming part of the Organization’s Initiative on Soaring Food Prices.
About 20 trucks full of sorghum, millet, maize and cowpea seeds are now on their way to the country’s south and southeast, while parallel distribution in other regions will be managed by the Mauritanian government. Most of the crops will need to be planted immediately in order to coincide with the rainy season which normally arrives in June.
“Due to dry spells and then floods last year, what farmers would have produced was largely wiped out in the flood-affected areas,” said Luca Fornasari, the FAO emergency coordinator in Mauritania. “In addition, imported food is skyrocketing and farmers had to sell their seed stocks to be able to buy food, or had to use them as food.” he said. “Seed delivery will help farmers get back on their feet now.”
In December, prices of millet were 50 percent higher than a year before, sorghum had doubled, and maize was up 60 percent. Prices have continued to increase steadily since then. Imported wheat and rice have seen even sharper increases, pricing out large swaths of the country’s poorest people.
People are coping in alarming ways, by eating less or eating one meal per day. Others are selling their livestock but cannot even get a decent price for skinny animals in the lean season. Already high levels of malnutrition are on the rise.
Currently, in a best case scenario, Mauritania does not even produce enough food to meet 30 percent of its food needs. The government aims to double agricultural output to cover 60 percent of its food needs with the next harvests. Agriculture is still the source of income for over 70 percent of the country’s poorest people.
It will take much more than just seeds
Mauritania is a vast desert country, and agriculture depends on exploiting the just 0.5 percent of land that is arable for food production. The best opportunity to boost agricultural output on a more permanent basis, said the FAO Representative in Mauritania, Radisav Pavlovic, is to rehabilitate and expand irrigation systems.
“We need to consider that out of the 500 000 hectares (ha) that can be used for agriculture, just 140 000 ha is irrigable land, in the valley of the Senegal River. Of that, only 45 000 ha are in some way already equipped for irrigation,” he said. “But due to the decaying infrastructure and canals not being maintained, only some 15 000 ha – about 11 percent – are in fact irrigated,” Pavlovic added.
Investors are taking interest
“In the short-term, self-sufficiency might be unrealistic, but an increase of 50 to 60 percent in local production can quite possibly be achieved,” said FAO economist Jacques Strebelle. The seeds being supplied today are just the immediate emergency response.
“For private Mauritanian investors, for example, for many years it was not profitable to invest in agriculture. Now that agriculture is profitable, investors will take interest,” he said.
This has created new opportunities to invest in rice farming in the Senegal River Valley, for example. In other regions that are dependent on rain-fed agriculture, water storage can be vastly improved through investments in dams, dykes and water pumps to feed agriculture, Strebelle said. In addition, the rain-fed areas can be leveraged for seed development and storage activities to help boost the seed supply and diversify production activities.
The FAO Initiative on Soaring Food Prices is also active in Senegal, Burkina Faso and Haiti this season, and activities will begin in Timor-Leste and Mozambique in the coming weeks. FAO is currently providing the funding for the Initiative on Soaring Food Prices, drawing US$17 million from its own resources to kickstart activities in the countries most affected by the crisis while planting is still possible.
More than 70 countries are seeking FAO assistance in the upcoming planting seasons in October/November as well as for next spring. FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf has said that $US1.7 billion will be needed to fully support the Initiative on Soaring Food Prices.
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