By Jemal Oumar
The Mauritanian Consumer Protection Association raised alarm bells earlier this month when it warned that Mauritania was at risk for famine due to a shortage of rainfall.
“There are strong indicators that there will be an acute shortage in the Mauritanian state’s stock of wheat because of the current drought in the country due to the shortage of rainfall,” the association said in an October 4th statement. “This means that breeders will ‘use forage’ for their livestock as the only way to rescue millions of endangered livestock.”
The association also noted a rise in the price of wheat on Mauritanian markets, with the commodity reaching 120,000 ouguiyas per ton with fears it could go as high as 200,000 ouguiyas.
“The shortage in rainfall up to October 1st, 2011 is estimated at 70% as compared to the same period last year in some regions in Mauritania,” according to economist Mohamed al-Amin Ould Ammar. “The shortage in some other regions was 45%, and was even 90% in some regions that are classified as disaster regions.”
“The scattered rain in some regions, its delay and scarcity in other regions, led to the death of 40% of the cattle population in the provinces of Hodh Ech Chargui, Hodh El Gharbi, Assaba, Trarza, Brakna, and Guidimaka,” Ould Ammar said. “In addition, poor rainfall didn’t allow people to plant crops in the autumn, which may represent a food alternative for rural area residents; something which indicates that there may be a disaster affecting people and animals all over Mauritania.”
Analyst Abdul Moemen said that the World Food Programme estimated the number of Mauritanians threatened by famine at 900,000 people, with the number likely to rise. He also warned of an uptick in terrorism as a result, claiming that “terrorism spreads in places where there is poverty and famine among bedouin shepherds and herders.”
Others such as Mohamed Abdullah Ould Maham said they feared a repeat of the 1998 bread crisis. “It is very likely that we will see a considerable rise in its prices with a drop in its quality,” he said. “There is even news that some bakeries in Nouakchott are using bad quality types of flour, given the high prices of good types and the absence of control on bakeries.”
Meanwhile, citizens and traders at the grain market in Nouakchott voiced concerns about a possible famine on the horizon.
“The thing that worries us the most is the scarcity of fodder in Nouakchott markets,” trader Sidi Ould Oudaa told Magharebia. “This period has usually been known for low demand on such fodder because of the autumn season. However, with the low levels of rainfall this year, and the near end of the season, the absence of fodder at markets has been worrying and noticeable to herders.”
Nouakchott resident Salimou Ould Mohamed said he saw a noticeable rise in food prices. “However, we hope that they will go down soon. We’ve been accustomed to this unstable market, given that it is subject to the supply and demand criterion.”
“The problem is that some leading traders control the consumer commodities prices,” he added. “They intentionally supply limited quantities of commodities and withhold the rest in order to impose the prices they want.”
“For two weeks now, the market has witnessed a noticeable shortage of wheat,” Ould Mohamed said.