Agriculture in MauritaniaMauritania spreads across 1,030,700 km2 of West Africa, more than two thirds of which is desert. The country has four distinct geographic regions:
- the maritime zone, a coastal strip 50 km wide, ranging from Nouadhibou to the delta of the Senegal River. In this area, the coastal production system allows agricultural activities with particular potential, due to its lower temperatures and the increased level of humidity; therefore the area is highly suitable for crops, especially horticultural and tree cultivations. An indicative estimate of the UAA is about 12 000 hectares. The urban-type farming is developed all around the urban areas.
- a narrow belt along the Senegal River valley in the south, where soil and climatic conditions permit settled agriculture. This area is dominated by irrigated agriculture but rain fed crops and livestock are also common. With regards to irrigation agriculture, there are two different cropping systems: the first is the irrigated agriculture in total water control, concentrated in the Senegal River Valley, where its potential is estimated at 135 000 ha; 8900 ha of newly irrigated land has been cultivated between 2009 and 2014, bringing the total irrigated area to around 30 000 ha or 6% of the UAA. Three harvests per year are performed: rice in the rainy season (July-October), fruit and vegetables, maize, and sorghum during the cold counter-season (November-February), rice in the hot counter-season (March to June).Rice, the main irrigated crop, has an average yield of 4 tons/ ha, despite potential of 6-8 tons/ha. The second system in the area is the Walo natural or controlled decline. - a broad, central east-west band characterized by vast sand plains and fixed dunes held in place by sparse grass and scrub trees. So- called Sahelian zone presents dry winters and rainy summers. The production system is of agro-pastoral kind: in the east, transhumance and extensive farming predominate over extensive pluvial crops (sorghum, millet, maize), of "diéri" type on sandy areas, that vary considerably depending on rainfall: from 57,000 to 184,000 ha or from 11% to 37% of the UAA. Yields are low, around 0.3 tons / ha. In the South, crops are dominant (sorghum, maize, vegetables) with dams and lowlands.
- large northern arid region blending into the Sahara Desert called as arid zone, characterized by shifting sand dunes, rock outcropping and rugged mountainous plateaus with elevations of more than 456 metres, high temperatures, drought and very low rainfall. The oasis production system is characterized by palms and some associated irrigated crops (cereals, alfalfa, fruit and vegetables), covering approximately 12,000 ha or 2.4% of the UAA.
Mauritania is a rather large country that has abundant natural resources like iron, oil and natural gas. Unfortunately, water and arable land are not at the top of the list.
Its 4,65 million people are rapidly urbanising, but half of the population derive their livelihoods from raising crops and livestock and fishing, according to World Bank 2019 data. Mauritania is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world . The majority of Mauritania's inhabitants, either nomadic Arabs or settled farmers, live within a subsistence economy, supplementing their incomes occasionally by wage employment or by sale of produce on local markets. Most settled agriculture is confined to the north bank of the Senegal River, where millet, sorghum, rice and other cereals are the main crops. However almost all agricultural produce is consumed locally.
The useful agricultural area (UAA) represents less than 0.5% of the country (estimated at 502,000 ha). Moreover, 44% of the UAA, or 220,000 ha, is cultivated with rainfed production systems (Diéri, Bas-fonds and Walo) that are highly dependent on rainfall, the water flow and thus on the quality of water infrastructures Mauritania has a typical desert climate, with high day time temperatures and hot winds, but cool nights. The coastal region is temperate. The northern region receives some rain, while in the south, substantial rains flood the Senegal River valley during the winter months, prompting agriculture and livestock rearing.
Mauritania is highly vulnerable to climate change, which amplifies droughts and flooding, and damages pastureland and non-timber forest products. Food prices soared in 2008, and continue to be volatile. This, combined with poor rains in 2011 and following years slashed agricultural output by two-thirds, pushed more farmers and pastoralists into poverty and hunger.
Although average agricultural income is below poverty threshold yet agriculture and livestock (mainly cattle, sheep and goats), including pastoralism, are considered as important sectors for Mauritania’s food security and economy. Most farmers are engaged in subsistence agriculture and never buy food outside their households. Farms produce dates, millet, sorghum, and root crops, while herders raise cattle and sheep.
Domestic cereal production in this arid country only meets about one-third of the national food needs, forcing a reliance on imports, especially for sorghum, millet and wheat. Food prices soared in 2019, and continue to be volatile because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cereal production has rebounded in recent years, with bumper crops in 2020 as a result of a heavy rainy season, but food security in some parts of the country remains a concern and the country continues to rely on food imports. Mauritania is self-sufficient in red meat and fish, but imports 60 per cent of other staple foodstuffs, especially rice, vegetable, sugar and cooking oil.
Fisheries in Mauritania
Fishery is an important source of income in the coastal areas. Fishing is the second largest foreign revenue source after mining. Along its 754 kilometres Atlantic coast, Mauritania has some of the richest fishing grounds in the world. The Saharian sea water has for a long time been known by fishermen all over the world as richly populated by all species of fish. The Portuguese fishermen were the first visitors to this sea, fishing from Cap Bajodor to Rio de Oro and on to the Bight of Argain, in Mauritania. Although Mauritania has an estimated 600 fish species, just around 200 species are commercially exploitable, and the West African country has battled illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing for years. In recent years the fishery sector in Mauritania has seen great changes. Nevertheless, the increase in fleet size has been oriented towards the high value demersal fisheries, due to the overfishing of sardinella. Sardinella is a small pelagic fish, staple food for West African communities. Not only it provides vital nutrients, but it also supplies jobs for hundreds of thousands of fishermen, women fishmongers and fish processors along the coast of West Africa. However, in the past ten years, access to fish for local consumption in the region has become harder and expensive. Sardinellas are migrating between Morocco and Guinea Bissau, which means they are shared stocks. These stocks are now severely overfished, partly as a result of the recent development of a fishmeal industry in Mauritania. Marine fisheries which lead to overfishing sardinella , world-wide are characterized by a dualism in the form of coexistence of small-scale or artisanal fisheries side-by-side with large-scale or industrial fisheries. The dualism is not confined to the scale of operation, but extends to the type of technology used, the degree of capital intensity, employment generation and ownership. In contrast to large-scale fisheries, artisanal fisheries are owner-operated and labour-intensive, using little capital and hardly any modern technology.