3 December 2002


Mission highlights

  • Poor agro-climatic conditions characterized by the late onset of the rainy season and insufficient and poorly distributed rains have undermined Mauritania’s cereal harvest for the second consecutive year.
  • Cereal production for 2002/03 is estimated at 99 705 tonnes, which is down 18 percent from 2001/02 which was itself down 32 percent from 2000/01. Production is 41 percent below the five-year average.
  • Market prices of local grains (millet, sorghum and maize) have been rising since November 2001, with the price of sorghum increasing 59 percent between January and September 2002. These commodities are in short supply on the market. The further poor harvests of this agricultural season risks extending this situation into 2003, unless measures are taken to supply the country.
  • The price of livestock has plummeted 40 to 60 percent depending on the region, with agro-pastoralists obliged to partly de-stock because of insufficient pasture and to purchase cereals.
  • Pasture will not cover more than 3 months of livestock consumption, so there will be serious reductions in milk and meat production in 2003 and migratory grazing will start earlier and be more intense.
  • Importation of 322 534 tonnes of cereals will be required to meet the country's needs. The anticipated volume of imports of 228 030 tonnes, made up of 217 030 tonnes of commercial imports and 11 000 tonnes of pledged food assistance, leaves a deficit of 94 504 tonnes to be covered by additional food assistance.
  • Thousands of people have been seriously affected by the succession of poor harvests, and some 411 000 persons throughout the country require emergency food aid. The situation is particularly worrying in Aftout, in the south of the two Hodhs, in southeast Konkossa, on the plateau strip between Tagant and Affolé and in east Trarza. The mission also recommends that assistance be given with agricultural inputs, especially seeds, so that affected farmers can resume their activities in the next planting season.


A joint FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission visited Mauritania from 12 to 19 October 2002. The mission worked closely with the services of the Ministry of Rural Development and Environment, which is responsible for monitoring the agricultural season, and with the Food Security Office (CSA: Commissariat à la Sécurité Alimentaire). It collated information from the Autonomous Port of Nouakchott, the National Statistical Office and companies and private traders operating in the cereal market. It also held talks with cooperation agencies involved in the country’s food security and organized two field visits: one by WFP to the food-vulnerable areas and one by FAO and the CILSS1 to assess the state of crops and to discuss the agricultural season and harvest prospects with farmers and extension workers.

The Mission's work led it to the following conclusions:

Mauritania's cereal harvest for 2001/02 was 27 percent below average and 32 percent down from 2000/01, which caused a sharp drop in food supplies. The situation was exacerbated by damage from the unseasonable torrential rains of January 2001, which were accompanied by strong, cold winds and which resulted in loss of human and animal life. Irrigated crops (especially rice) and lowland and recession crops also posted serious losses, exceeding 70 percent in some areas, and the destruction of production infrastructure. The food situation became precarious for many people and required emergency intervention on the part of the Government, WFP and donors.

The belated start to the 2002/03 agricultural season and the insufficient and poorly distributed rainfall have further aggravated the food situation by reducing harvests. This led the Mauritanian Government in early September to launch an international appeal for emergency food aid.

On the basis of information gathered and discussions with food security workers, the Mission estimates a total cereal harvest of 99 705 tonnes, which is 18 percent down from 2001/02, which was itself already 32 percent down from 2000/01. It will be 41 percent below the average for 1997–2001. Sorghum production is estimated at 25 405 tonnes, maize at 5 994 tonnes, millet at 406 tonnes and rice at 67 900 tonnes. Other crops such as cowpea and watermelon will help bolster food supplies or provide farmer income, but respective production levels will also be low.

National cereal supplies for the 2002/03 marketing year are estimated at 176 747 tonnes against the country's total requirements of 499 281 tonnes, which leaves an overall import requirement of 322 534 tonnes. With anticipated commercial imports of 217 030 tonnes and pledged food aid of 11 000 tonnes, the cereal deficit would stand at 94 500 tonnes.

The present trend of increasing food prices and limited market availability of local cereals (sorghum, millet, maize) coupled with the deterioration in livestock/cereal terms of trade suggest a difficult food situation in 2003 for rural populations whose ability to cope has already been sorely tested by last year’s poor harvests.

According to information from the Food Security Office Monitoring Centre, some 600 000 people in over 134 rural municipalities would appear to be seriously affected and in urgent need of food assistance. Animal feed will also be required in the next months because of insufficient pasture in several regions. The mission also recommends that these people be given assistance with agricultural inputs, especially seeds, for the next planting season.


2.1 Population

The preliminary results of the last population census of December 2000 indicates a population of just over 2.5 million people at the end of December 2000 and an annual rate of growth of 2.6 percent. A gender breakdown gives 51.3 percent women and 48.7 percent men. Nomads had accounted for some two-thirds of the population in 1960 but now only represent 4.8 percent. This is due to the impact of drought and rapid desertification which is degrading their socio-economic environment and obliging them to settle and move to urban areas. The capital, Nouakchott, is estimated to have 612 000 inhabitants, representing 24 percent of the national population, and a rate of growth of 3.75 percent per year. However, despite rapid urbanization, the majority of the population are still agro-pastoralists.

2.2 Selected macroeconomic data

Mauritania has experienced regular growth since the early 1990s. Its real GDP rose by an average of more than 4 percent between 1993 and 1999, despite a slight dip to 3.2 percent in 1997 and 1998, and rose 5 percent in 2000 (see Table 1). This has been mainly due to good performances by mining and fisheries and more recently to the development of small and medium processing industries. Growth in 2001 reached 5.2 against an estimated 5.5 percent in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. The poor agro-climatic conditions of 2002/03 will preclude higher growth in 2002.

Inflation has been kept in check through tight monetary policy and has stood at less than 5 percent, except for 1998 when it reached 8 percent. The reforms introduced under the guidance of the International Monetary Fund resulted in 1995 in the abandonment of exchange control and the official exchange rate for the Ouguiya, the local currency, whose value has since then been determined by the market.

On the budgetary level, the sweeping reforms introduced since 1993 for fiscal balance, control of public expenditure and economic liberalization have converted a chronic budget deficit of more than 10 percent of GDP in 1985 into a budget surplus since 1996, with figures of 2.4 and 2.3 percent respectively for 1998 and 1999. This encouraged the International Monetary Fund to adopt a first programme of poverty reduction and economic growth in July 1999 worth US$55 million. The second programme with a value of US$8 million is in the pipeline and is due to begin in 2003. Mauritania has also been eligible to the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative since February 2000, and its Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper was approved by the World Bank in February 2001.

Mauritania's main exports are iron ore and fishery products. The total value of its exports in 1999 was estimated at US$333 million, with fisheries accounting for US$113.2 million and iron ore for US$129.6 million. Although the country has no command over international prices in these two sectors, its balance of trade has remained in surplus mainly because of its control of import expenditure.

Table 1: Changes in main economic indicators1997-2001

  1997 1998 1999 2000 2001
GDP (thousand million UM) 166.7 187.8 203.1 205.1 223.9
Real GDP growth (%) 3.2 3.2 4.3 5.0 5.2
Consumer price inflation (%) 4.5 8 4.1 3.3 4.0
Population (million) 2.42 2.5 2.58 2.551/ 2.621/
Exports (US$ million) 408 360 333 350 360
Imports (US$ million) 355 358 305 320 335
Balance of payments (US$ million) 17 -11 41 n.a. n.a.
Average exchange rate (UM/US$) 151.9 188.5 209.5 238.9 255.2
Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit, Country Report, July 2002.
1/ The 2000 population was estimated from the preliminary figures of the general population census of December 2000 published in June 2001 by the National Statistical Office of Mauritania. The 2001 population has been estimated by the mission on the basis of a 2.6 percent rate of growth.

2.3 Agriculture and fisheries

Mauritania's agro-climatic conditions are not favourable to agriculture, especially as less than one percent of its land is arable. Agricultural production, which is heavily conditioned by an erratic climate, accounts for less than 6 percent of GDP and rarely meets 50 percent of the country's food requirements, although it employs almost half the population. Rainfed crops account for more than 80 percent of the planted area but only about 60 percent of total production. Irrigation works in recent years have significantly lifted irrigated production (sorghum, maize and rice) - from an average of 53 000 tonnes in 1985-1992 to an average of 76 000 tonnes in the last ten years. Irrigated cropping now accounts for about 40 percent of the country's cereal output. Production of wheat, barley and dates in the oases is insignificant (a few hundreds of tonnes).

Livestock production is the key agricultural activity, accounting for 70 percent of sectoral GDP and almost 14.6 percent of overall GDP. The livestock population estimated in 2000 to total 13 million is made up of 10.3 million small ruminants (sheep and goats), 1.4 million head of cattle and 1.2 million camels.

The fisheries sector grew strongly in the early 1980s, resulting in the overexploitation of fishery resources and the recent fall in catch levels. However, like iron ore, the fisheries sector constitutes one of the country's main sources of export and employs about 27 000 people. It accounts for almost 54 percent of total export earnings and for 27 percent of the national budget. Catch levels fluctuated between 424 000 and 658 000 tonnes and exports between 189 000 and 366 000 tonnes in the period 1995-1999 (cf. Table 2).

Table 2: Evolution of fisheries 1995 to 1999

  1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
Catch (thousand tonnes) 424.5 622.8 554.4 658.1 452.3
Exports (thousand tonnes) 287 366 199 189 204
Value of exports (million UM) 33 950 36 447 28 048 27 997 31 118
Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit, Country Report, July 2002.


3.1 Rainfall situation

The first measurable rains on 5 and 6 June only covered the wilaya3 of Guidimaka and the southeast of Gongolo. However, there wasn’t abundant rainfall until the third dekad of the month, and this only affected Guidimaka, where 72.8 mm of rain were recorded in Gouraye in 3 days, 46.4 mm in Ghabou and 23.2 mm in Sélibaby.

The rains then extended to the wilayas of Hodh El Chargui and Assaba during the first dekad of July, but recorded rainfall was generally low, except in Kankossa where it reached 50 mm. In contrast, there was significant rainfall in the wilayas of Guidimaka and Gorgol, especially in Gouraye, Wompou and Toufoundé Civé. This dekad was unfortunately followed by a long dry spell, which resulted in the loss of crops planted in early June, except in the localities of Sélibaby, Kankossa, Wompou, Ghabou, Néma, Timbédra and Maghama.

There was some generally low rainfall in the first dekad of August, and although this signalled the beginning of the agricultural season in many agro-pastoral regions, agricultural activities only really got under way in the wilayas of the south and southeast during the second dekad of August.

The wilayas of the southwest (North Gorgol, Brakna and Trarza) and centre (Tagant) only received significant rainfall from the second dekad of September. The second and third dekads of September were relatively wet and had better rain distribution. All regions received rain during this period, in contrast to the three first months of the rainy season (June, July and August), and it was only then that the agricultural season got started in the southwest and central wilayas.

The first dekads of October also saw good rainfall, with several stations recording up to 60 mm of rain during this period which would normally mark the end of the season and the virtual cessation of rain.

Overall, Mauritania's 2002 rainy season was one of late-starting rainfall, which was then insufficient, erratic and poorly distributed. Compared to 2001/02 and the inter-annual average for 1980-2000, most meteorological stations reported lower rainfall this year, although some did record slight increases from the previous year, including Néma and Oualata in Hodh El Charghi, Kobéni and Ain Farba in Hodh El Gharbi, Gouraye in Guidimakha, Tidjikja in Tagant and Méderdra in Trarza. However, the increased rainfall usually occurred after the plants had suffered irreversibly from water stress (see Graph 1) and so was of no benefit to the strictly rainfed (diéri) crops.

The delayed onset of the rainy season and the erratic and poorly distributed rains seriously upset the agricultural calendar and compromised both pasture and crop growth, especially the diéri crops. A case in point is Magta Laher in Brakna as Graph 2 indicates. Diéri plantings are generally in June or early July at the latest, but this year were only possible at that time in certain parts of the wilayas of Guidimaka, Hodh El Chargui, Gorgol and southeast Gorgol. However, most plantings were then lost during the long dry spell that started in the second dekad of July. There was only widespread planting from the second dekad of August, continuing into September or even into early October in Brakna, west Gorgol and Tagant. There is little hope of these crops completing their growth cycle before the normal cessation of rains in October, when harvesting begins.

No crop had yet been harvested at the time of the mission's visit. The most advanced stage of growth was plant elongation/heading in parts of Guidimaka, southeast Gorgol and Hodh El Chargui. In many areas, notably Brakna, watermelon and cowpea had been given preference over sorghum because of the late onset of significant rain. Low or even negligible yields are expected in many regions.

There is scope for optimism in the lowland areas where planting take places in late October/early November, because the recent rains have raised dam reservoir levels. Nevertheless, water levels are still below normal and the flooding period could well be too short to permit sufficient moisture build-up in the soil for good crop growth.

The simple recession (walo) crops could also be affected by the control and management of the Senegal River.

3.2 Supply of agricultural inputs

In the past, SONADER (the National Rice Development Corporation) had been responsible for supplying agricultural inputs and had operated virtually as a monopoly, but the market has now been liberalized since 1998 with private operators actively involved. There is also a credit system managed by UNCACEM (a cooperative union but with funds from the State and external donors) that enables farmer cooperatives to acquire inputs. However, inputs are mainly used by rice farmers in the Senegal River basin. Fertilizer and improved seeds are rarely used for rainfed crops (millet, sorghum and maize) although these account for over 80 percent of the annual planted area. Farmers generally set aside stocks from previous harvests or, failing this, get their supplies from the local market or from relatives or friends. However, after the poor harvests of 2001/02, the Government has had to intervene this season and provide farmers with 10 000 tonnes of improved seeds (sorghum, maize, rice, cowpea, vegetables).

Seasonal credit is mostly for irrigated crops, especially rice. It is used to purchase inputs (notably fertilizer and seeds) and farm implements, to hire equipment (tillage, threshing), to maintain infrastructure works and to use motor pumps. However, many cooperatives were not eligible for credit this year because of high arrears in the repayment of previous loans.

3.3. Cereal production

3.3.1 Estimated planted areas

The Mission estimated the planted areas for each type of cultivation: diéri (strictly rainfed from June to October), lowland and walo (simple recession from November to March), and irrigated and controlled recession (walo enhanced by the presence of a dam to broaden the flooded area and retain water longer).

The estimated areas under diéri cultivation were based on the agricultural survey conducted each year by the Agricultural Statistics Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment (MDRE). The data had been collected by the time of the Mission's visit and were being processed. The survey covered all the agricultural regions, except Brakna where plantings had only just begun at the time. The sample coverage rate was a satisfactory 75 percent.

As regards Brakna, where the survey could not be done in time, the planted area estimate was based on the average for the last ten years corrected by the level of cultivation observed this year (around 40 percent).

As regards the lowland area, estimates were based on the average for the last ten years and an 80 percent level of activity calculated from the level of dam replenishment (40 to 60 percent) reported by the water resource services.

The estimate for the walo area was made on the basis of data provided by SONADER, responsible for monitoring river hydrology from the stations of Kaédi and Gouraye.

The irrigated areas for the 2002 rainy season were calculated from the data of a survey conducted by the agricultural statistics unit. On the other hand, SONADER projections were used for hot-dry and cold-dry off-season crops and for controlled recession crops.

The overall results are given in Table 3. The total planted area for 2002/03 is estimated at 95 709 ha, which is 51 percent down from 2001/02 and 52 percent below the average for the last five years (see Table 4). The diéri planted area is estimated at 42 000 ha, which is 71 percent down from the previous year and 64 percent below the average for 1997/98–2001/02. By contrast, the cropped lowland area has increased by 11 percent from 2001/02 but is still 34 percent down from the five-year average. The lowest figures refer to walo crops, which have tended to disappear in recent years because of the construction of dams along the Senegal River basin. Irrigated crop projections are 32 percent higher than 2001/02 but 14 percent down from the average for 1997/98–2001/02.

Table 3: Planted areas, yields and outputs for agricultural season 2002/03

  Sorghum Millet Maize Rice Total
Type of cultivation Area
Diéri (strictly rainfed) 39 327 200 7 865 2 705 150 406             42 032 8 271
Lowland 20 800 500 10 400       3 600 750 2 700       24 400 13 100
Walo (simple recession) 1 000 350 350       600 620 372       1 600 722
Controlled recession 7 160 880 6 300       2 760 900 2 484       9 920 8 784
Irrigated 490 1 000 490       292 1 500 438 16 975 4 000 67 900 17 757 78 828
Total 68 777 - 25 405 2 705 - 406 7 252 - 5 994 16 975 - 67 900 95 709 99 705

Table 4: Changes in planted area (ha)

Type of cultivation Average
1997/98- 2001/02
Diéri 118 025 144 305 42 032 -64 -71
Lowland 36 842 22 004 24 400 -34 11
Walo 17 611 3 643 1 600 -91 -56
Controlled recession 3 174 9 939 9 920 213 0
Irrigated sorghum/maize 2 077 594 782 -62 32
Irrigated rice 19 743 12 992 16 975 -14 31
Total 197 472 193 477 95 709 -52 -51

3.3.2 Estimated yields

Diéri yields have been estimated on the basis of average yields for the last ten years corrected by experts and field observations. The significant delay to the start of the season led to very late planting and it is by no means certain that the plants, most of which are still at the elongation stage or indeed the emergence/tillering stage, will be able to complete their growing cycle before the end of the rains, which is normally in late October. All the signs are that this season's yields will be significantly lower than the average for the previous years.

For other types of cultivation, yields of lowland and walo crops have also been estimated on the basis of data from experts and yields of irrigated and controlled recession crops have been based on SONADER projections. The assessments have also factored in the risk of pest infestation (e.g. borer in sorghum) and bird spoilage - a growing risk in recent years, despite the control efforts – and the difficulties of small producers in getting credit for inputs. The mission consolidated its projections with an in-depth review of historical data and a detailed study of production potential for each crop and type of cultivation. (see Table 3).

3.3.3 Estimated cereal production

Total cereal production for the 2002/03 season is put at 99 705 tonnes (see Table 5). This includes 67 900 tonnes for rice, proportionate to 68 percent, and 31 805 tonnes for coarse grains, proportionate to 32 percent, representing an 18 percent fall from the previous season which was itself down 32 percent from 2000/01. It is also 40 percent lower than the average for the last five years and one of the lowest levels of the past ten years, but close to the levels of 1990/91 and 1992/93 (about 100 000 tonnes).

The situation varies according to crop. Total production of coarse grains (sorghum, millet, maize) is about 50 percent down from 2001/02 and 65 percent below the average for the last five years. Sorghum and millet have performed worst, down 52 percent and 91 percent respectively from last year and 66 percent and 92 percent lower respectively than the average for the last five years. Maize production is down 3 percent from 2001/02 and is 36 percent lower than the average for 1997-2001.

On the other hand, rice production is 15 percent up from last year, but still about 15 percent below the average for the last five years.

By contrast, diéri production is down about 80 percent from 2001/02 and from the average for 1997-2001.

Walo production fell 44 percent from last year and is 94 percent lower than the average for 1997-2001, data that confirm the general decline of walo cropping in Mauritania, explained by many observers as the result of dam construction and therefore controlled flooding of the Senegal River.

Lowland crops are up about 14 percent from last year, but are nevertheless sharply down by 49 percent from the average for 1997-2001.

Production of irrigated crops is up 28 percent for coarse grains (sorghum and maize) and up 15 percent for rice as compared to 2001/02. However, irrigated coarse grains have plummeted 68 percent and irrigated rice has fallen 15 percent against the five-year average.

Table 5: Cereal production 2002/03 (tonnes)

Type of cultivation Sorghum Millet Maize Rice Total
Diéri 7 865 406 - - 8 271
Lowland 10 400 - - - 13 100
Walo 350 - 372 - 722
Controlled recession 6 300 - 2484 - 8 784
Irrigated 490 - 438 67 900 78 828
Total 25 405 406 5 994 67 900 99 705

Table 6: Changes in cereal production (tonnes)

Type of cultivation Average
Diéri 47 219 43 270 8 271 -82 -81
Lowland 25 930 11 450 13 100 -49 14
Walo 11 350 1 299 722 -94 -44
Controlled recession 2 460 6 623 8 784 257 33
Irrigated sorghum/maize 2 874 726 928 -68 28
Irrigated rice 80 207 58 809 67 900 -15 15
Total 170 040 122 177 99 705 -41 -18

3.4  Other crops

Other crops include cowpea, watermelon, vegetables and fodder. Cowpea and watermelon are basically companion crops to cereals and are grown over relatively large areas (30 000 ha for cowpea and 5 000 ha for watermelon). Cowpea production was 9 905 tonnes in 2001/02 and has averaged 10 127 tonnes in the last five years, whereas 1 111 tonnes of watermelon were grown last year and the average for the last five years has been 1 500 tonnes. Groundnut is also grown but with an average production of under 500 tonnes per year.

There has been an expansion of horticultural cropping in recent years to supply the urban areas. Horticultural crops are grown on most irrigation schemes and in the vicinity of large urban areas.

3.5 Animal production

The livestock population was estimated at about 13 million in 2000, with 10.3 million small ruminants (sheep and goats), 1.4 million head of cattle and 1.2 million camels. Keeping livestock is a vital component of people’s food security, especially in rural areas where livestock provide meat and milk for household consumption and serve as a source of income to purchase other products. When the harvests fail, the agro-pastoralists’ first line of defence is to sell their animals, especially their small ruminants, so as to purchase cereals.

Agro-climatic conditions in 2001/02 were not favourable for livestock production. There was less pasture than usual and much had been destroyed by the off-season rains of January 2002. These rains also caused the loss of some 150 000 animals. The late onset of the 2002 rainy season and the lack of rainfall in virtually all the main agro-pastoral regions hampered pasture growth until August.

Indications are that existing pasture will only be sufficient to feed livestock for three months, at best, which could seriously erode milk and meat production in 2003. Such a situation could also trigger the distress sale of small ruminants which would deprive the rural populations of a primary source of food.


4.1 Access to food

The marketing of foodstuffs and, in particular, cereals is liberalized in Mauritania. There are several private operators and one para-statal (SONIMEX) supplying the markets. The main import commodities ( wheat, rice, tea, sugar, milk, vegetable oil) come principally from Europe and Asia. Imports of coarse grains (millet, sorghum, and maize) are generally from trans-border markets, especially in Mali, with transport by donkey or camel. There is little monitoring of such trade which is however estimated to total several hundred tonnes when production is good in the border regions. On average, cereal imports cover at least 50 percent of the country's needs each year.

As regards national production, producers place their surplus production either directly on the domestic market or through purchaser and distributor networks.

Cereal market prices rose sharply during the 2001/02 season, especially for coarse grains because of poor harvests.

Close examination of cereal market prices indicates a sustained increase since November 2001 (see Table 7 and Graph 3). The price of sorghum rose from 88 Ouguiya (UM) per kilo in September 2001 to 103 UM/kg in December 2001/January 2002. By April 2002 it had risen a further 5 percent to 108 UM/kg and was 49 percent higher than the same period in 2001 (69 UM/kg). It then reached 164 UM/kg in September 2002, representing a 59 percent increase from January 2002 and an 86 percent hike from September 2001 (88 UM/kg). Market supply of sorghum and other coarse grains is currently very tight.

The price of cowpea, another local product consumed mainly in rural areas, has also risen: up more than 75 percent from last season.

Table 7: Changes in average price of sorghum and local rice (UM/kg)

Product   Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
Sorghum 2001 70 68 66 69 77 79 82 83 88 89 100 103
  2002 103 99 101 108 122 129 128 132 164 - - -
Rice 2001 124 125 127 131 133 140 150 158 152 171 154 147
  2002 152 150 149 148 142 139 143 152 152 - - -

For local rice (information on imported rice was not available), price change was irregular from January to September 2002 (see Table 7 and graph 4). From January to May, prices were higher than in 2001, but then lower from June to September. This was essentially because of measures taken in June 2001 by rice traders to support local production. These traders, who are both leading producers and importers of rice, decided to reduce their imports so that they could dispose of their own production. This reduced market supply and raised the price of local rice.

By contrast, the price of wheat remained relatively stable throughout the season, despite the occasional small increase. The prices of wheat and rice are generally relatively stable in the country even in years of poor harvest. Supplies are adequate and any variations in price are mainly due to fluctuations in the international market.

Livestock prices are currently falling sharply, in some parts of the country by as much as 40 to 60 percent, essentially because of insufficient pasture.

Mauritania’s food situation during the 2001/02 agricultural season was particularly difficult. The previous poor harvest and heavy irrigation crop and livestock loss from the off-season rains of January 2002 seriously depleting food supplies, especially among the rural population. To make matters worse, the lean season was earlier and longer with the late onset of the rains.

As a result, entities that include the Government, WFP and NGOs have distributed food and the country has received some 34 000 tonnes of cereal as food aid this year.

4.2  Provisional cereal balance 2002/03

The cereal balance for 2002/03 (see Table 5) is based on the following assumptions:

Anticipated commercial imports are estimated at 217 030 tonnes, comprising 17 950 tonnes of rice, 191 580 tonnes of wheat and 7 500 tonnes of coarse grains. Pledged food aid amounts to 11 000 tonnes, including 5 000 tonnes of rice from Japan, 3 000 tonnes of wheat from France, 1 000 tonnes of wheat from China and 3 000 tonnes of wheat from WFP.

Table 8: Cereal balance 2002/03 (tonnes)

  Rice Wheat Millet,
Opening stocks
87 565
67 900
19 665
57 377
57 377
31 805
31 805
176 747
99 705
77 042
Food use
Seed use, loss and other
Closing stocks
151 098
104 538
27 160
19 400
254 957
187 632
15 000
52 325
93 226
88 455
4 771
499 281
380 625
46 931
71 725
Pledged aid
63 533
17 950
5 000
197 580
191 580
6 000
61 421
7 500
322 534
217 030
11 000
UNCOVERED DEFICIT 40 583 - 53 921 94 504

Import requirements for 2002/03 are estimated at 322 534 tonnes, which is 10 percent higher than imports in 2001/02. With anticipated imports of 228 030 tonnes (217 030 tonnes as commercial imports and 11 000 tonnes as food aid), that leaves an additional import requirement of 94 504 tonnes, made up of 40 583 tonnes of rice and 53 921 tonnes of coarse grains (millet, sorghum and maize).


The Government of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania launched an emergency appeal on 1 September 2002 to deal with the impact of a third poor agricultural season (aggravated by the bad weather of January 2002). The Government requested a total of 51 000 tonnes of food supplies, including 37 000 tonnes of cereals, to cover the needs of 822 000 people.

On 25 March 2002, WFP had already approved the emergency delivery of 17 231 tonnes to help populations affected by the poor harvests of 2000/01 and 2001/02 and the heavy rains of January. However, operation MRT 10147.00 only got under way in September and has so far only received 56 percent of required resources.

The Mission was able to see for itself the extreme vulnerability of communities and noted additional information for the regions that it was unable to visit because of time constraints (south of the two Hodhs and Trarza). This information identifies the same affected population as the CSA’s Food Security Monitoring Centre.

General state of vulnerability

For the third consecutive year, Mauritania has to deal with shortfalls in cereal production caused mainly by inadequate and poorly distributed rains. The carryover effect has caused added pressure on livestock and has driven the most vulnerable households to resort almost permanently to survival strategies.

The VAM study (surveys in March and October 2002) shows that 20 percent of households in the survey areas are currently affected by food insecurity4 and that 21 percent are vulnerable5. Over 41 percent of households therefore exist in a state of confirmed vulnerability, and a further 14 percent are exposed to potential food insecurity6.

In terms of village vulnerability, the study shows that 18 percent of the surveyed villages are in a food crisis (66 percent of households with chronic food insecurity and the remaining 44 percent vulnerable), 25 percent are very vulnerable (20 percent of households with chronic food insecurity and 66 percent vulnerable) and 9 percent are potentially vulnerable. Which means that 43 percent of the surveyed villages are currently either in food crisis or are highly vulnerable and therefore require urgent and immediate intervention. There are also high proportions of vulnerable households in 41 percent of villages, which means that only 9 percent of villages in the survey areas present a relatively satisfactory food and nutrition situation.

The situation is particularly worrying in:

Characteristics of vulnerable households

Vulnerable households and households living in a state of food insecurity are heavily dependent on agriculture (50 percent of their activities are agricultural and more than 35 percent of their income is from agriculture) and on activities revolving mainly around migration and unskilled labour. They also have low savings capacity (the keeping of livestock, which to some extent has a savings function, is only a marginal activity for such households), essentially because of the high level of destocking that has occurred and the often resulting decapitalization, and because food expenditure exceeds 70 percent of overall expenditure.

Coping strategies and mechanisms

All these areas share the same characteristics, i.e. extreme exposure to biophysical risks (especially rainfall), narrow range of types of cultivation (rainfed and lowland), continuing deterioration of cereal/livestock terms of trade and limited income-generating activities because of the absence of effective demand. Local coping strategies and mechanisms therefore centre mainly around destocking and often decapitalization of livestock, greater recourse to casual labour, early migration, involvement of women and children in migration strategies, and consumption of the productive goods and assets needed for this.

Nutritional status of vulnerable groups

These unsustainable strategies and mechanisms and, in particular, their highly unremunerative nature relative to the scale of requirements and price increases, have resulted in a continuing deterioration of nutritional status of vulnerable groups. Compared to the VAM surveys of March 2002, acute malnutrition among children aged 6–59 months has increased from 13.5 percent to an average of 21.9 percent, which is far higher than the level judged to be critical for West Africa (10 percent). Severe acute malnutrition amounts to 3.1 percent. These indicators are so high that they call for immediate intervention for all malnourished children, whatever their age.

Table 9: Indications of proportion of vulnerable population

Region Estimated population
with food insecurity
Estimated vulnerable
Aftout 47 765 45 417 93 182
South 2 Hodhs/Southeast Kankossa 110 291 128 265 238 555
Plateau Tagant/Affolé 22 880 26 630 49 510
East Trarza-West Brakna 13 872 16 324 30 196
Total regions 194 808 216 635 411 443

WFP Assistance

Emergency food aid targets the affected populations of the wilayas of Trarza, Brakna, Gorgol, Tagant, Assaba, Hodh El Gharbi and Hodh El Chargui. The first group includes populations living in a state of food insecurity and with serious malnutrition among its high-risk subgroups (children between 6 and 59 months, pregnant women, nursing mothers). The group of beneficiaries in Aftout and the other regions, where the nutritional situation is also bad, will receive a full ration of 2 100 kcal per person per day, equivalent to 555 grams comprising cereals (400 g), pulses (60 g), oil (30 g), WSB (50 g) and sugar (15 g). Food will be distributed free for 9 months, from 1 January to 30 September 2003, a total of 270 days. The second group will receive a ration of 1 700 kcal per person per day made up of cereals (400 g), pulses (60 g) and oil (30 g).


The harvests for the 2002/03 agricultural season will be the lowest in the last 10 years. Production will be down 18 percent from 2001/02, which was itself down 27 percent from 2000/01. This sequence of poor harvests will plunge many people into serious food insecurity. Emergency aid was required in many parts of the country in 2001/02 and will be required even more in 2002/03. The mission recommends:

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO and WFP Secretariats with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact the undersigned for further information if required.

Henri Josserand
Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495
E-mail: giews1@fao.org
M. Aranda da Silva
Regional Director, ODD, WFP
Fax: 00221-8223798
E-mail: Manuel.ArandadaSilva@wfp.org

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1. Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel

2. This information is taken from the "Economist Intelligence Unit, Country Report, July 2002".

3. The wilaya is the largest administrative unit in the country, corresponding to the region in certain countries.

4. Household whose diet is poor and whose resources are insufficient to cover its food needs for the rest of the year.

5. Household whose diet is minimal and whose resources are insufficient to cover its food needs for the rest of the year.

6. Household whose diet is average but whose resources are minimal and insufficient to deal with any future calamity.