Africa: Impacts of Russian Withdrawal from Cereal Agreement – Potential Threat to Food Prices in Mauritania
Mauritania, a country in West Africa, relies primarily on agriculture, livestock, and fishing for its economy, accounting for about 19% of GDP.
While the poverty rate is relatively low compared to some Sahelian countries, many Mauritanians face limited access to services such as restricted market access and credit (0.05%), and insurance, among others. These factors hinder economic growth and perpetuate chronic poverty.
Climate fluctuations and economic shocks also pose significant challenges for the country, resulting in high levels of food and nutritional insecurity during difficult times.
The Mauritanian government has implemented initiatives such as the Strategic Framework for Poverty Reduction (CSLP) and the Special Intervention Program (PSI). These programs, aimed at creating social safety nets and combating poverty and food insecurity, are supported by international organizations.
Ukraine, one of the world’s leading exporters of cereals, is facing a controversial decision by Moscow to terminate the agreement on wheat, corn, and vegetable oil exports. This move could have a significant impact on global food supply due to the importance of Ukrainian grain exports in the international market. This decision risks disrupting agricultural trade and having significant consequences for global food supply.
My research focuses on food security, agricultural markets, and household adaptation strategies to climate shocks. In this article, I aim to explain the impact of Russia’s withdrawal from the agreement on Ukrainian grains on food security in Mauritania.
Low agricultural production
Despite a significant increase in public allocations to the agricultural sector, agricultural production only manages to cover 30% of the country’s food needs. Financial support through bank loans and microfinance is insufficient and difficult to obtain from financial institutions. This results in low agricultural productivity and the inability to meet the food needs of the growing rural population.
Furthermore, traditional livestock production techniques, mainly based on transhumance, also hinder agricultural progress and prevent a shift to semi-intensive livestock farming that is less susceptible to recurring drought shocks in the country.
Low rainfall and recurrent droughts have significantly reduced agricultural production, leading to hunger and making poor households more vulnerable. The presence of refugees fleeing the conflict in Mali in areas with high food pressure has added an additional constraint on the country’s resources and social systems. More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has also had a significant impact on the increase of extreme poverty in the country.
Additionally, global inflation caused by the Russo-Ukrainian conflict has worsened the food security situation in the country, particularly by limiting access and availability of food in the market for poor urban and rural households.
Rising prices of imported products, mainly wheat (about 20% of wheat comes from Ukraine), have exacerbated the situation by restricting access to other food commodities, including sorghum, millet, and corn, which come from neighboring countries such as Mali.
Pressure on the domestic market
Although the increase in livestock prices temporarily contributed to improving the food and nutritional situation of some populations, poor regions continue to face high food costs, maintaining a precarious situation despite favorable agropastoral conditions this year.
Russia’s withdrawal from the agreement on Ukrainian grains will have a significant impact on Mauritania’s food security, as about 20% of its wheat comes from Ukraine. This decision will increase pressure on the domestic market and further complicate distribution. It will result in higher food prices in the inland regions of the country.
This phenomenon will be particularly concerning in areas where food insecurity is already high and needs are desperate. This includes the regions of Guidimagha, Tagant, Assaba, and Brakna, which have poverty rates of over 40% and are considered the most vulnerable.
Furthermore, the depletion of household stocks from the previous harvest before the next one will increase dependence on markets for basic food items. This increased dependence will make it even more difficult for households to access affordable and nutritious food.
As a result, the situation will lead to more severe food insecurity, particularly affecting the most vulnerable who have not yet recovered from previous hardships.
Promoting irrigated agriculture
Like many other countries on the continent, Mauritania is actively engaged in initiatives to strengthen its food sovereignty. Harnessing the easily irrigable potential in the Senegal River Valley, which covers an area of 135,000 hectares, could play a key role in the country’s agricultural sector development, with particular attention given to rice cultivation. In fact, the government is implementing efforts to promote irrigation and support this sector.
Targeted measures and tailored policies are crucial for improving food security and nutrition. Creating complementary income-generating activities would alleviate financial constraints and stimulate agricultural investments.
To diversify income, promoting rural entrepreneurship is advisable. It is also necessary to strengthen linkages between agricultural sectors, questioning a sole focus on agriculture in the face of land scarcity and youth unemployment.
In a study published in 2022, we demonstrated that households engaged in non-agricultural activities significantly reduce poverty, thereby stimulating agricultural investments.
Furthermore, maintaining consumption during shocks is important. To achieve this, avoiding the sale of livestock and promoting resilient livestock farming supported by climate insurance is necessary. Such insurance would provide compensation to help populations and livestock cope with climate disasters while also strengthening national resilience. This would stabilize consumption during crises, requiring a policy shift towards economic diversification, climate resilience, and protection of vulnerable households.
Economist, University of Reunion Island