Ahmedou Ould Soule
Mauritania is a vast Sahelo-Saharan country, predominantly Saharan, covering 1,030,000 km2. It is in the north-west of Africa between 15° and 27°N and 5° and 17° West. In the north it borders with Morocco and Algeria, to the west with Mali, to the south with Senegal, and to the west with the Atlantic Ocean (Figure 1). The latest census found 2, 548, 157 inhabitants (Ould Ekeïbed, 2001) living on less than forty percent of the country (according to the World Factbook the estimated population of July 2006 was 3,177,388 with a growth rate of 2.88%). Three quarters of the country is covered by the Sahara desert, the remainder belongs to the Sahelian zone.
Figure 1a –Map of Mauritania
Figure 1b. Administrative map of Mauritania
The majority of the population are of Arab-Berber origin (White Moors, Black Moors or Haratins) and there are many Negroid Africans: Halpoularen, Sonikés, Wolof and Bambara. The religion is Islam and the official language is Arabic. Mauritania gained its independence on 28 November 1960.
The main national resources come from trade, mining and fisheries. There is also a large potential for stock rearing and to a lesser degree, crop production.
The activity of these different air currents give rise to great annual variability in precipitation. Taking rainfall and its distribution throughout the year, the following are distinguished in Mauritania:
The deterioration of climatic conditions, caused by droughts, have brought about a displacement of the isohyets towards the south and is at the origin of a phenomenon of desertification. All the north of the country (about three quarters of the national territory) is desert (Figure 2). It is sparsely populated (Table 3). The Sahelian zone extends from west to east over a strip 200 km long.
Figure 2 : Isohyets (mm) 1961-1990 (Map based on data from AGRYMET/RIM)
Overall the Mauritanian climate can be subdivided into three seasons:
The rainy season varies greatly in both time and space. It extends over a period of four months, from June to September/October, along a gradient north-south and west-east from several millimetres to 450 mm annually (Figure 3). The inter-annual instability of rainfall increases as the total rainfall is less (Nations Unies, 2001).
Figure 3. Rainfall gradients north-south and east-west. (Source: Ministère du Développement Rural et de l’Environnement)
a. Rainfall gradients N – S (mean rainfall in mm)
b. Rainfall gradients E – W (mean rainfall in mm)
Within these ecological zones there are wetlands which are transit areas for migrating birds, some of which harbour a rich avifauna. The main wetlands are: The Senegal river; lake Rkiz; lake Mâl, Tamourt N’nâj, The Banc d’Arguin national park and the Diawling National Park.
Figure 4. The Ecological Zones
It is estimated that the land suitable for agricultural activities is 500,200 hectares (Table 2), that is about half a percent of the country’s area (Nations Unies, 2001). The agricultural potential can vary considerably from year to year.
The agricultural potential is unequally distributed; the four southern districts (Trarza, Brakna, Gorgol and Guidmakha) which cover 12 percent of the country, contain 59 percent of the arable and almost all the irrigable land.
Previously animal husbandry was separate from crop production, but there has been an evolution over recent decades and livestock are now found in all agricultural production systems. Thus, in Mauritania, the main production systems are: nomadic pastoral systems; pastoral and agropastoral transhumant; sedentary agropastoral and stock rearing systems associated with cropping; extensive and semi-intensive urban systems.
In Mauritania stock rearing is the main activity of the rural sector. In most cases it is extensive but, for several years, there has been an evolution towards other forms. Despite years of serious drought which reduced fodder and water resources considerably and decimated the livestock during the nineteen-seventies and eighties, stock rearing remains an important activity. The official contribution of the sector to the national added value for 2000 is around 68 milliards of Oguiya (1 US$ = 258.750 Oguiya (MRO) in 2003), that is about 21 percent of the GDP (FAO 2001). It is mainly practiced in the Sahelian zone which covers the south of the country between 15° and 18° North. The distribution of the livestock is related to the species.
Cattle are essentially limited to that part between the 150 mm isohyet and the south of the country. Small ruminants are found throughout the territory with high densities in the south and south-east. Most of the camels are north of the 400 mm isohyet with greatest densities near the coast since camels are very fond of the salty grazing.
There is a zonal specialisation in types of stock rearing: the Sahel Est is the most important zone with 64 percent of the cattle, 49 percent of small ruminants and 40 percent of camels. The Sahel Ouest is the second livestock zone with 33 percent of the cattle, 44 percent of small stock and 22 percent of the camels. The arid zone is the least important with 3 percent of cattle, 7 percent of the small stock and 38 percent of the camels.
There is different information on stock numbers. Figures for 2000 published by the Ministry of Rural Development and the Environment are: cattle 1,657,000; small ruminants 12,555,000; camels 1,247,000; asses and horses 212,000. FAO data on livestock numbers, cattle exports and meat and milk imports are given in Table 4. By 2004 the small ruminant population approached 15 m head and of the milk production of 348,600 tonnes over 200,000 tonnes was from sheep and goats.
Table 4. Mauritania statistics for livestock numbers, meat and milk production, live animal exports and milk and meat imports for the period 1996-2005
Livestock numbers have undergone large variations since 1964 (the first statistics available date from then). The drop in numbers has been caused by various droughts. Small stock and camels have suffered much less from drought than have the cattle (Figure 5). At present herd numbers have been reconstituted and are higher than prior to the cycles of drought which began in 1968. The recent evolution of numbers is due to the good rainfall which the country has enjoyed.
The domestic livestock reared in Mauritania belong to the following species (Table 5) (Kane 1995). Cattle - Moorish Zebu and Peulh Zebu; sheep - Moorish sheep both short and long haired, Peulh sheep; goats – Gouéra, dwarf eastern sheep; camels – Brabiche and Rgueïbi; horses – Barb and Arab; asses – local; poultry.
Cattle (Bos indicus). There are two distinct breeds. The Moorish Zebu accounts for three quarters of the total. It is a hardy animal which can go as far north as the 150 mm isohyet. It is very tough and may drink only every second day. The Peulh Zebu is only found in the south of the country (mainly in Gorgol Assaba and Guidimakha).
Sheep (Ovis aries); there are three breeds. The Moorish short hair (Toubair or Ladem) is greatly appreciated for its meat. The Moorish long-hair is markedly smaller than the preceding breed. Its black hair is long enough to be woven. Peulh sheep or Poulfouli have characteristics similar to the Moorish short-hair. It is only in the south of the country.
Figure 5: Evolution of stock numbers (thousand head)
Goats (Capra hircus). The following breeds occur. The Sahel or Spotted goat is met throughout the country; the Saharan, or Spanish or Gouéra goat; the Dwarf Eastern goat or Djouger.
Camels (Camelus dromedarius). Two breeds occur; the Sahel Camel – Rguebi and the Aftout or Brabiche camel.
Horses (Equus caballus). Two breeds are present; the Barb and the Arab or Breed of the two Hodhs
Asses (Equus asinus) the local breed is found throughout the country.
Poultry. These are mainly local or exotic breeds of Gallus gallus; recent estimates give 3,500,000 local fowls under traditional systems. Traditionally some ducks and Guinea fowl are also reared.
The sale of live animals and livestock products such as milk, meat, butter, hides and skins, wool etc. is the main source of income of the stock rearer. The market price of livestock depends on supply and demand. Transactions are made per head of livestock. The animals sold are generally old males and cull females. Young small ruminants, especially goats, are intensively exploited; the females are usually kept.
Milk production. Milk is important in the Mauritanian diet. It is eaten fresh, as curd or as butter. The alternating seasons and feed supply for stock are important factors governing production. In the wet season production is much higher than in the dry season because of forage and water are much more abundant in the rainy season. The variation in the nutritive value of the pastures causes not only variations in milk production but also in milk quality, that of the rainy season being better.
Milk production is estimated at 362 866 tons of which 36 percent is from cattle, 8.5 percent from small ruminants and 55.5 percent from camels (according to FAO statistics 2004 milk production was 348,600 tonnes with 34.7 percent from cattle, 27.5 percent from sheep, 31.5 percent from goats and only6.3 percent from camels). The average consumption of locally produced milk is 56 litres per inhabitant annually. Despite an annual production equivalent to 150 litres per head of population, Mauritania has to import milk powder and sterilised milk. From Table 4 it is noted that in 2003 fresh milk imoprts were 10,180 tonnes and total milk equivalent imports were 75,210 tonnes.
The two pasteurisation units have organised milk collection from semi-intensive and peri-urban (transhumant or sedentary) producers. These collections are organised with modern methods, pick-ups, tankers etc. With a view to rationalising and developing milk production the pasteurisation units have organised producers which has allowed, in addition to an increase in production, improved management of herds which are better fed and cared for.
Meat production. Annual meat production is about 75,426 tonnes of which 16,215 are from cattle, 38,745 from small ruminates, 18,046 from camels and 2,420 from poultry (By 2004 total meat production was 89,349 tonnnes including 23,000 tonnes of beef and veal, 24,750 tonnes of sheep meat, 13,800 tonnes of goat meat and 22,000 tonnes of camel meat - see Table 4). Mauritania is self sufficient in meat and sells excess production (live animals) to neighbouring countries: Senegal, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire and the countries of the Maghreb Arab Union. Live exports are of the order of 43,300 cattle and 300,000 sheep (However, in 2003 live cattle exports were estimated at 0 head as well as 280,000 sheep, 100,000 goats and 0 camels - Table 4). The exportable surplus has been estimated at 43,300 cattle, 327,600 small ruminants and 31,600 camels, that is 17,100 tons of carcase equivalent (Marchés Tropicaux et Méditerranéens, 1998).
Other livestock products. The potential exploitable as hides and skins is estimated at 78,000 cattle and 1,800,000 small ruminants. Hides and skins of small ruminants and cattle are used by local artisans but camel hides are not. Export of hides and skins are limited and are mainly sheep skins (according to customs statistics exports are about 20 percent of controlled slaughter and 2.5 percent of total slaughter). (Marchés Tropicaux et Méditerranéens, 1998). Collection of raw skins is mainly done at Nouakchott. Hoofs and horns are little exploited. Sheep’s wool, greatly appreciated, is used to make tents as is camel wool. Cow dung is used as fuel. It is also used in making mud-brick.
Animal traction. In the Saharan and Saharo-Sahelian zones where wells can be tens of metres deep, drawing water is done with the help of camels or less commonly asses. When water is drawn from wells with a delou (a kind of cowhide bucket) its capacity can be over 50 litres. In the valley animal drawn cultivation is used; the most commonly used animals are oxen, horses and asses. Carts pulled by horses or asses are used to carry water and merchandise and sometimes even passengers.
Livestock production systems
Nomadic pastoral systems.
During the rainy season the herds go as far north as possible within their territories. During the cool dry season (October - February) the herds move slowly southwards. In the hot dry season (March – July) the nomads are usually camped around water points. In the north the nomads are sometimes obliged to take camel herds very far from water points (sometimes over 30 kilometres) to find grazing. Even if camels are on pasture well supplied with water they may not drink for weeks, even up to one to three months. Nomadic herds are tended by herders who are often old nomads who have lost their own herds during drought years, or their sons. They generally look after herds, on remuneration, owned by urban proprietors. The herders often have their own small herds of goats.
The livestock travel daily over long distances in search of forage which is mainly trees, shrubs and herbs. Only weak animals may get some supplementary feed of wheat or groundnut cake. The nomads are very familiar with the plants and livestock. Their knowledge allows them to use the pasture of one zone or another at the best time. According to surveys carried out among nomads, they carry out reconnaissance trips on camel-back to assess the forage capacity and spatial distribution of pastures, which allows them to manage their grazing lands. Nomadism has the advantage that it allows livestock to explore zones which are outside the reach of other systems. The diversity of palatable species plays an important role in their health and nutrition. During the dry season goats are watered every two days whereas camels are only watered once every four or five days or even more. The camel herd is given salt two or three times monthly.
Camels’ milk is the staple of the nomads’ diet and is the main source of water for their bodies. It is under exploited since most of the camels are not milked, which is a serious loss of milk during the whole of the dry season; on the other hand, during the rainy season the milk is made use of since the urban population take advantage of the school holidays to take “cures de lait”. As to goats milk (small quantities) it is often reserved for butter making. As in other livestock systems camel meat is only eaten by the herders on important occasions. Goat meat is most frequently eaten, especially at festivals and during visits from strangers.
Camels’ wool is used for tent making. Nevertheless it is less well liked than that of sheep. Goat skins are tanned by the women and used for making water-skins, mats and various other uses. Camel hides are not used. Camels are the only kind of transport suited to such an environment and is still used; they are also used for drawing water.
Pastoral and agropastoral transhumant systems
There has been a noticeable reduction in mobility of cattle herds during the past few years. Movements are limited to two or three months during the lean season(May – July). During that time the herds move slowly towards the zone, usually to the south, where water and natural grazing is more plentiful. Sheep rearing is important in the south of the country, especially the two Hodhs. Movements are large in both time and space. The motives for that transhumance are found in the need to put the animals on green pasture to be able to intensify the rhythm of reproduction so as to have two lambings per year. Herds in the south-east use Malian pastures throughout the whole of the dry season and come back north during the wet season to avoid biting insects and stay with or near their owners. Goat rearing is secondary.
Camel rearing by urban owners which is close to the nomad system from the point of view of mobility has been developed in recent years. It resembles semi-extensive urban systems in that some females are kept near Nouakchott for milking, at least in the rainy season.
The feeding of transhumant stock is almost entirely based on natural grazing. Nevertheless supplementary feed, usually wheat, is often given to weak or ailing stock during the lean season. Sometimes the herd is accompanied by four wheel drive vehicles which allows: rapid reconnaissance of grazing areas; transport of weak stock; transport of water for domestic use and weak animals; transport of stock feed. Small ruminants are watered daily, cattle every two days and camels once every four or five days.
The food security of the herder and the family which sometimes accompanies him is at least partially assured by the herd which he is in charge of. The urban owners do not get many of the products because the herd is far away. Cow milk is generally reserved for family use or to some poor villagers to whom it is offered through solidarity networks. In zones where commercial outlets for milk have been developed traditional solidarity mechanisms (loan of cows to poor families “mniha) have suffered greatly. Excess milk is made into butter.
Urban owners only drink the milk of their herds during the rainy season. Owners of herds of camels and cattle go to the country during the school holidays for a “cure du lait” which plays a very important sanitary and nutritional role. This practice has increased considerably in recent years and has encouraged merchants and civil servants to buy herds of cattle or camels which they exploit in the rainy season.
Peulh women traditionally exchange cow milk (fresh, curd or butter) for cereals. Ewe milk is little used by herders, being almost entirely used to feed lambs.
The goats in the herd serve mainly to feed the herder and his family. Sheep production is in a great part aimed at producing rams, which are regularly sent to inland towns or marketed in Senegal and Mali.
Sedentary agropastoral systems associated with crop production
Sedentary cattle keeping is essentially practiced in the south (valley zone, particularly Gorgol and Guidimakha) whereas small ruminants are principally found in all the zones of the south identified as pockets of poverty. In the valley the traditional household sheep fattening is often done. In the past few years a similar fattening of bullocks has begun.
During the rains the stock have only natural grazing. In the dry season they exploit crop residues, mainly straw and stover left on the field, and natural grazing. The crucial period for feed is during the hot dry season when the natural pasture yields little; its length varies from year to year. Supplementation usually starts in March and stops with the onset of the rains in June. When supplementation begins the natural pastures are not completely exhausted; the livestock can often find half of their needs thereon. The contribution of the pasture diminishes as the rainy season approaches; it can drop to a quarter of daily needs.
From May to July the livestock, at least weak ones and milking dams receive straw, bran (from sorghum, maize, millet and rice), cowpeas and cereals. In irrigated areas the animals graze in paddy fields which are irrigated after harvest to encourage ratoon growth and weeds; they receive complementation – crop residues.
Sheep and bullocks being house-fattened get high quality feed composed of stems of Cucumis ficifolia, Merremia pentaphylla, Ipomoea aquatica etc., stems and seed of cowpea, cereal grain, kitchen waste, groundnut cake etc.
Cow and goat milk play a very important role in the nutrition of the population of these areas whereas ewe milk is little used. Milk yields vary seasonally: cow 1 – 4 litres daily; goat 0.5 – 1; ewe 0.25. Agropastoralists often undertake traditional fattening; usually of young lambs which are fattened with a complementary feeding of kitchen waste and agricultural by-products. The main aim of this fattening is consumption or sale for the festival of Tabaski. At the end of the fattening period one ram is sacrificed by the family while the others are sold; this permits the family to buy festive clothes. In the oasis zones complementary feed is crushed date seeds, lucerne, crop residues etc.
Extensive urban system
Animals wandering in the streets are characteristic of this system; they feed on urban waste but always receive a high quality complementation of kitchen waste, wheat flour, groundnut cake, lucerne etc. and are watered daily. Goats are kept for milk which is consumed, by preference, as fermented drink “zrig”. Traditional sheep fattening aims at producing fat ewes for Tabaski.
During the rainy season feeding is almost entirely based on natural pasture. On the other hand in the dry season the camels get a ration in the morning before going to graze in the surroundings of the town; they return soon after midday and get water and a complementation of groundnut cake, and bran of rice and wheat. The cattle are kept tied up indoors throughout the dry season and are fed a concentrate-based ration.
Milk production is better, quantitatively and qualitatively during the rainy season because their feed is balanced. Yields vary according to the stage of lactation between 3 – 7 litres daily (mean 4.5) for cattle and 3 – 10 (mean 5) for camels. Evening milk is sold to clients in town whereas morning milk is sold to one of the two pasteurisation plants. Excess milk is sold as curd. During the rainy season many families install themselves along the Nouakchott-Rosso road, close to the milch herds in order to take a “cure de lait” – this causes a slight rise in milk prices. Milking females come from the family’s nomadic (or transhumant) herd; after a year of commercial exploitation the females and their offspring are either sold to the butchers of Nouakchott or returned to their original herd. In all cases they are replaced by others.
At present there is no monitoring of livestock diseases because of lack of funds. Only vaccination campaigns are organised regularly on a national scale to control the major epizootics. (FAO 2001)
Cattle enjoy a good prophylactic cover, notably by vaccination against Contagious Bovine Peripneumonia botulism, black quarter, anthrax and nodular dermatitis. Veterinary care also involves internal, and external parasites but is usually only done on weak animals or those with obvious signs of parasites. Other diseases which appear from time to time and can be serious include: foot and mouth disease and Rift Valley fever. Rinderpest has been eradicated.
The diseases of small ruminants are less well studied than those of cattle. The main diseases reported are: peste des petits ruminants, sheep pox, gastro-intestinal parasites and enterotoxaemia. Prophylactic treatments are rare. Stock owners have recourse to traditional cures. Sometimes stock are vaccinated against enterotoxaemia or doses against worms.
For camels, veterinary care is essentially aimed at controlling ectoparasites, ticks and mange, and to a lesser degree controlling gastro-intestinal parasites. Trypanosomaisis (Trypanosoma evansi) transmitted by biting insects (horse-flies and Stomoxys) affects animals which have ventured into southern zones during the rainy season.