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Where We Work
View of cattle being watered at the Gorgol River
Young girls ferrying water: only 44% of country people have access to improved water sources in Mauritania.
Man weeding field of irrigated onions: in a region where rains frequently fail irrigation farming is becoming increasingly important: we are helping farmers make it profitable as well.
Sheep herder: livestock herding plays an important role in the south of Mauritania although it is increasingly coming into conflict with farmers whose crops are mostly unfenced.
Women cooperative members with some of their vegetable plots behind them. Small-scale intensive vegetable growing by groups of women is an area of potential growth.
Harratin moorish family in their tent: we are making sure that the Harratin, who are the most disadvantaged group in the south of Mauritania, are involved in our projects.
75% of young men like these leave their villages for the towns as agriculture, the main activity of the countryside, has little to offer: this loss of man-power is devastating.
Climatic conditions have deteriorated markedly over the last decade or so with drought, high temperatures or floods impoverishing already vulnerable communities.
Rainbow Development in Africa works exclusively in the Gorgol region of southern Mauritanian and the adjacent Podor region in northern Senegal, both situated within the mid Senegal River Valley area (see Home Page map). Mauritania, where majority of our work is conducted, is a little-known Saharan country just south of Morocco and north of Senegal. It has a population of approximately three million, the majority of whom are Moors of Arab/Berber and Black African descent, with a minority of Black Africa tribes, notably the Peul and Soninke, in the south. One generation ago, 80% of the population lived in rural areas. Today, some 60% live in towns. Resources in the country are scarce, although iron ore in the north and extensive fishing grounds on the coast bring in revenue, as it is hoped will modest offshore oil reserves. The country has little infrastructure, virtually no industry and an undeveloped agricultural sector.
The south of the country, although semi-desert in the most part, has more precipitation (300mm/yr) than farther north, parts of it being suitable for either rainfed, flood-recession or irrigation farming. The primary issues faced by farming communities in the south, and particularly in the Gorgol region (pop: approx 75,000) where we focus our activities, are as follows:
The climate has always been difficult in this region, with high temperatures and periodic drought. Climate change is now making this considerably worse, drastically altering seasonal rainfall patterns and bringing higher temperatures. Now drought is more frequent, interspersed with biblical downpours which can bring a whole season’s rain in a few days causing unprecedented flooding, the loss of whole crops and topsoil, and damage to houses as well as many other related problems.
The removal of trade barriers in much of the developing world has opened local markets up to competition with the highly efficient and often heavily subsidised food production systems of the developed world. Unprotected markets are therefore frequently flooded with cheap imports from Europe, Morocco, Asia and elsewhere, meaning farmers cannot get realistic prices for their crops.
The cost of diesel, fertilisers, crop-protection products, machinery and most other imported inputs continually rise well above local inflation.
Increasingly, farmers need to apply more sophisticated farming practices in order to make agriculture economically viable in the face of both the marketing and climatic problems mentioned above. Extension services for farmers are virtually non-existent, however, and many farmers simply do not have the knowledge required to do this.
Twenty-five years of discrimination of the Bantu/Black peoples of southern Mauritania by the Moorish-dominated regime of ex-President Sid’Ahmed Taya (thrown out in a coup d’etat in 2005) culminated in 1990 with the reported expulsion of 60,000 people from the country and the murder of 1000. The region, even by comparison to the rest of the country, has also been systematically neglected to the point where infrastructure is extremely poor and the local population are demoralised and disempowered with little political voice leaving them highly vulnerable to exploitation.
Traditionally, the peoples of this region were pastoralists with livestock herding being their main source of income. The great sahelian droughts of the 1980's destroyed most of their livestock, however, forcing many of them to take up agriculture, an activity that did not necessarily come naturally to them. The droughts are also responsible for many different tribal and ethnic groups increasingly concentrating in the south. This is leading to competition over resources.
Traditional modes of existence, which were well suited to a pastoral, subsistence way of life, are in many cases incompatible to the more strategic and entrepreneurial approach that is required to participate in a rapidly modernising world. Access to education, better health care and housing and more material possessions require a step change in social norms.
The result of all the above is that the south of Mauritania has a poverty threshold well below the rest of a country that itself scores consistently low on the UN’s Human Development index. Malnutrition is endemic, medical facilities are rare and infant mortality is high. All forms of agriculture struggle to be economical with the loss of whole crops from flooding, drought or locust invasion not unusual. Seventy-five percent of young men must leave their villages to seek jobs and income elsewhere. The local economy is mostly stagnant, with private local investment rare.
On a more positive note, however, people are resilient with cultural support systems that can absorb the biggest of shocks; there is a general willingness to try new things and effect change; recent changes of government and possibly more revenue available from oil exploitation has led to a relaxation of the marginalisation of the south marked by a new roads being built and the slight emergence of the Mid-Gorgol region as an agricultural hub; and good soils, available water and plentiful sunshine give agriculture the potential to significantly change people’s lives in the region.