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Mauritania: an impending crisis

It’s happening again. Once more Mauritania is facing the risk of suffering a food crisis.

More than a quarter of the population (700, 000 people) are at risk of food insecurity, according to Oxfam, who we’re working with on the ground.

Mauritania has been plagued by regular crises – 2002, 2005, 2008 and 2010 – and with each one, resilience has been eroded and children and women are worst affected.

External factors

Mauritania is a good example of a country dependent on external factors – over 70% of the food consumed is imported.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), global food prices increased in March for the third month in a row, due to a multitude of reasons including speculation, the rising price of oil and other products that come from it, such fertilisers.

In addition, due to this year’s poor harvest, prices have increased compared to last year: millet 50%, corn 60% and sorghum 100%. Families haven’t grown enough food to eat, and now can’t afford food from the market.

Save the Children and Oxfam’s Charter to End Extreme Hunger stressed that it’s possible to prevent this kind of crisis, regardless of the climate conditions.

It simply isn’t true that there’s not enough food at low prices to meet the world’s needs.

Improving production

According to the FAO, over 80% of Mauritania’s agricultural land isn’t cultivated. However, scientific progress in production and cultivation techniques could triple the fields’ production capacity.

Many problems have been linked to the focus on mono-culture – producing a single crop over a large area – especially of rice, which cannot compete with imported rice.

Some programmes are focused on exporting food to foreign countries. These initiatives require large investments but are not aimed at alleviating the problems of subsistence of the Mauritanian population.

In addition, incomes are uncertain and highly dependent on international markets. Other initiatives have sought to change traditional forms of agriculture, but they haven’t been successful.

Preparing for crisis

Both government and international organisations have spent months preparing a response to the impending crisis.

The Mauritanian government has created several hundred warehouses storing basic subsidised products, such as rice, oil, sugar, wheat and pasta. These products are sold in shops at discounted prices between 40% and 60% relative to their market price.

This measure has benefited only a small part of the population and isn’t sustainable in the long term. Prices are still too high to ensure food for everyone. These abrupt changes in prices hinder any kind of planning or long-term investment.

Mauritania is a small country with no more than 3.5 million people occupying an area twice the size of Spain. Rural development policies have attended to foreign markets and have sought solutions at macro-level, forgetting small farmers.

How can we prevent this recurring situation?

The recurrent food crises that many countries, such as Mauritania, experience could be avoided with the right political decisions nationally and globally.

We must demand our leaders end the speculation on food to stabilise prices.

We must work to promote small-scale local markets and traditional activities with domestic demand.

We must demand our leaders support good governance of agriculture that encourages diversification, biodiversity and local production, the empowerment of farmers’ organisations, access to rural credit, and that they ensure the right to food through access to land, water, and resources in a sustainable way.

Written by Iñaki Olazabal Otero, Projects Officer in Mauritania


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