Mauritania is located in the Saharan region of West Africa, bordering the Atlantic Ocean on the west. More than 90 percent of the country’s land surface is desert or semi-desert. Mauritania is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. Its population is about 3.8 million, and the name of the capital is Nouakchott, located on the Atlantic coast. The country faced serious droughts and the risk of mass starvation during the 1970s and 1980s. Poverty is widespread. The country is administratively divided into 12 regions (wilaya), which are further sub-divided into 44 departments (moughataa).
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. Fishery is an important source of income in the coastal areas.
In spite of the introduction of modern agricultural methods in certain areas, most Mauritanian farmers are subsistent and practice primitive cultivation methods on usually small landholdings. 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. Recurrent droughts, complicated land tenure system, expanding desert, and weak public policies in the past have cast shadows on the agricultural sector. In recent years, the government has been trying to boost up agricultural production through expansion of irrigated area, especially in the Senegal River valley, introduction of new crops, and recruitment of fresh graduates for developing lands for farming purposes. Main crops include millet, sorghum, rice, corn and some root crops. Dates are also produced. However,insufficient water supply remains a major constraint for farmers.
Key Statistics and Indicators
Agricultural land (sq km)
Agricultural land (% of land area)
Arable land (hectares)
Arable land (% of land area)
Arable land (hectares per person)
Fertilizer consumption (kg per hectare of arable land)
Agriculture, value added (% of GDP)
Food production index (2004-2006 = 100)
Food exports (% of merchandise exports)
Food imports (% of merchandise imports)
GNI per capita, Atlas method (current US$)
Literacy rate, adult total (% of people ages 15 and above)
Literacy rate, youth female (% of females ages 15-24)
Literacy rate, youth male (% of males ages 15-24)
Ratio of young literate females to males (% ages 15-24)
Ratio of female to male secondary enrollment (%)
Mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people)
Internet users (per 100 people)
Population density (people per sq. km of land area)
Rural population (% of total population)
Agricultural population (% of total population)*
Total economically active population
Total economically active population in agriculture*
Total economically active population in agriculture (in %
of total economically active population)
Female economically active population in agriculture (% of
total economically active population in agriculture)*
History of Extension and the Enabling Environment
Mauritania’s farmers have been facing locust swarms for the past 3,000 years, and severe, prolonged droughts and reoccurrence of famine threats have become a norm for rural communities for decades if not centuries. Government efforts may be called as uphill battles against the Mother Nature. In 1949, the French colonial government started exploratory agricultural research on date palms and the production systems prevailing in the Senegal River valley and oases. The French Colonial Fruit and Citrus Institute established Mauritania’s first research station in Kankossa in 1952. The French Tropical Agriculture and Food Crops Research Institute initiated research on rain-fed and river-fed food crops at Kaedi. There is no information available on whether these institutes undertook any extension activities. Mauritania gained independence in 1960.
In 1962, the National School of Training in Agricultural Extension (ENFVA – Ecole Nationale de Formation en Vulgarisation Agricole) was established at Kaedi with the assistance of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The school provided training to various categories of technical staff including agricultural demonstrators, veterinary nurses, water resources and forestry officers, co-operation officers, agricultural officers, stock-raising assistants, and water resources and forestry supervisors. As ENFVA had a piece of land for demonstration and training purposes, it performed extension activities in villages located within 80 km radius. Since 1973, however, ENFVA terminated most of its extension activities due to staffing and transportation problems. The school was closed in 1995 but was revived later under an externally funded project.
In 1965, a French development agency (BDPA), sponsored by the French Cooperation, developed an irrigated rice pilot area at Dar El Barka. The residents of two villages, named Bakao and Vinding, were the main beneficiaries of this initiative. From 1969 to 1973, the government followed a policy of industrialization, with the assumption that this approach would stimulate agricultural development through a cycle involving an increase in the demand for farm products like sugarcane and that, in turn, would trigger the increase in the supply of industrial products such as fertilizers needed for improving the farm productivity. It was also assumed that the industrialization will attract and absorb surplus labor from agriculture. This policy, however, prompted young people to move from their villages to the cities, where most of them ended in urban slums due to lack of proper employment.
In 1972, National Agricultural Research and Development Center (CNRADA) was established at Kaedi by the then Ministry of Rural Development. The Ministry also established the National Livestock and Veterinary Research Center (CNERV) at Nouakchott in 1974. A School of Cooperatives was also opened up to educate villagers in cooperative systems and management skills. These institutions were being built at a time when about 70 percent of the Mauritanian population comprised nomads and subsistence farmers, a feature that continued till as recently as the 1980s. Understandably, in the face of tough conditions for practicing agriculture, pastoralists and farmers had developed the adaptation strategy of moving to less hot, less dry and less populated areas.
In 1974, encouraged by the success of a vegetable production initiative in the Assaba Region, the government launched a major program of vegetable production in the oases-rich northern region. This program had a significant extension and communication component. A large number of cooperatives were created. For the very first time, a national extension policy was formulated, and field extension agents were placed in various parts of the country. Education programs for farmers were coordinated, and CNFVA, the agricultural school mentioned above, organized a series of seminars to expose farmers to new technologies and farm management skills.
The Mauritania Rural Development Project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), was implemented from 1975 to 1983. Under this project, adaptive research and extension were integrated into one project that covered a geographically small area (Guidimaka). The objective of the project was to develop and test socially acceptable, technically feasible, and economically viable innovations in agriculture, animal health and nutrition, range management and forestry, and then extend them to peasants and herders of the region through on-farm trials. This project also enhanced women’s traditional role in agriculture.
During the mid-1980s, the National Livestock Department (DNE - Direction Nationale d’Elevage) operated 11 field centers and 19 veterinary field stations. Besides vaccinations, the field stations provided other veterinary and extension services to the farmers. The Ministry also operated the ENFVR, the agricultural school, which provided training to veterinary field staff.
Around the same period, the National Corporation for Rural Development (SONADER - Societe Nationale pour le Developpement Rural), that was created in 1975 within the Ministry of Rural Development, carried out its responsibility of planning rural agricultural programs that also included training of farmers in new techniques required for improved irrigation cropping. Later, however, many functions performed by SONADER were withdrawn under the Agricultural Sector Adjustment Program initiated in 1988. That year, the total number of public agricultural extension staff in Mauritania was 97.
Another USAID-funded project, Mauritania Vegetable Production Project, which also strengthened extension services, was implemented from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. Under this project, vegetable demonstration and field trial areas were created for research and extension activities, and both extension agents and farmers were given training in production.
During the early 1990s, the World Bank introduced the Training and Visit (T&V) system of extension in Mauritania through a project. With the pumping of enormous financial, physical and human resources into the prevailing extension services, extension was indeed strengthened. However, the gains could not be sustained after the external funding ended around 1998. The ensuing years saw a gradual deterioration of extension services in Mauritania.
The decentralization of agricultural and rural sectors was initiated in 1993. While regions were authorized to prepare a policy on credit and inputs, the policy formulation for certain major services including research, extension and training remained the exclusive domain of the national level government institutions. The public sector remained the major player in the delivery of research services, but it shared the delivery of training and extension services with NGOs, and that for irrigation services with the private sector. The private sector involved producer organizations in the inputs and credit matters.
Some of the donor-funded projects in Mauritania that have contributed to the direct or indirect strengthening of extension services are:
- World Bank (examples: Integrated Development Program for Irrigated Agriculture in Mauritania Phase II; Agricultural Services Project).
- International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) (examples: Maghama Improved Flood Recession Farming Project (two phases); Oasis Sustainable Development Program; Poverty Reduction Project in Aftout South and Karakoro).
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (examples: Study on agricultural extension services in 2011; National Strategy of Food Security).
- African Development Bank (examples: National Integrated Rural Water Sector Project (PNISER); Capacity Building of Actors in Microfinance; Management of Agricultural Water in West Brakna).
- OPEC Fund for Development (example: a multi-disciplinary rural development program including enhancement of agricultural production through modern farming, micro-credit, literacy, and community participation).
An FAO workshop on extension organized in 2011 involved major stakeholders including producer organizations in discussions on improving the extension services. A number of extension related weaknesses were found such as a lack of NGOs’ experience in extension and advising, weak management capacity of producer organizations, and a lack of data for assessing the extension situation in Mauritania. Producer organizations were vocal in demanding reforms in the extension system. The workshop participants recommended greater involvement of NGOs and producer organizations in extension matters.
Presently, several ministries are involved in extension. Several documents prepared by the government, such as National Paper on the Status and Prospects of the Agricultural Sector in Mauritania (1997), National strategy for Agricultural and Food Security, National Food Security Investment Plan (NAFSIP), and the Rural Strategy 2015, identify strategic directions aimed at ensuring food security and strengthening the agro-pastoral production and productivity. In 2011, Mauritania signed NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) and CAADP (Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Program).
Major Institutions Providing Extension/Advisory Services
Ministry of Agriculture, Food Technology and Natural Resources (MDRE – Ministere du Developpement Rural et de l’Environnement)
The Ministry has a Directorate of Research, Training and Extension that handles all agricultural extension matters.
Ministry of Fisheries and Maritime Economy (MPEM – Ministere des Peches et de l’Economie Maritime)
The Ministry runs extension and training programs for fishermen.
National Corporation for Rural Development (SONADER - Societe Nationale pour le Developpement Rural)
SONADER provides extension and advisory services mainly in irrigated agriculture areas.
Although Mauritania has four research institutions namely Mauritanian Institute of Oceanographic Research and Fisheries (IMROP), National Agricultural Research and Development Center (CNRADA), National Livestock and Veterinary Research Center (CNERV), and National Anti-Locust Center (CNLA), yet an Internet-based review does not reveal any extension activities performed by these institutions. As far as academic institutions are concerned, there are no agricultural universities or colleges in Mauritania.
It is said that there are many private agricultural input suppliers in Mauritania. However, there is no information available on the Internet about their names and operations. Similarly, no significant commercial companies are known in the agricultural sector. In the milk sub-sector, there are companies such as Tiviski (Africa’s first camel milk dairy established in Nouakchott in 1987) and Top Lait. Reportedly, local markets are flooded with heavily subsidized cheap milk, imported from Europe that is negatively affecting the domestic milk industry of Mauritania. Recently, in 2013, the Mauritanian Government has signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Prawn Company and Al-Rajhi International Company for Investment (also known as Al-Rajhi Alliance) for a billion dollar investment to uplift the agricultural sector.
NGOs, mostly international, have been active in humanitarian assistance in Mauritania during food shortage crisis whenever the country was hit by prolonged droughts or locust attacks. Some national NGOs are apparently active in agricultural and rural community development, women participation in development, and natural resources management, subject to availability of funds. An Informal Federation of NGOs in Mauritania also exists, comprising about a dozen NGO members. Names of a few NGOs based in Nouakchott are as follows:
- GLOBE (claims to provide extension services to farmers in rain-fed areas in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Technology and Natural Resources).
- AMADES – Association Mauritano-Americaine pour le Developpement Economique et Social.
- ADM – Actions pour le Developpement Durable en Mauritanie.
- AIFF - Association Internationale des Femmes Francophone.
- OMED – Organisation Mauritanienne pour l’Encadrement et le Developpement.
- RDA –Rainbow Development in Africa, which is a UK-based NGO with an extension and training type project in Mauritania, working in collaboration with Rodale Institute.
- Association of Milk Producers of Tiviski http://www.tiviski.com/ (in Arabic, English and French APLT) offers animal feed on credit at low prices; also provides veterinary care and extension services related to animal hygiene and feeding.
- Mauritanie 2000 (started in 1994).
Farmers-based associations, cooperatives and societies
Almost all donor-funded projects have emphasized on establishing and/or working through grassroots associations and cooperatives of farmers/producers/fishers. The involvement of rural women in these projects has received special attention. Given very difficult rural conditions, prevailing poverty and ever present natural threats to even basic agricultural operations, none of the farmers’ organizations has its own extension personnel. As such, they depend on public extension services. Examples of some active farmers-based associations and cooperatives in Mauritania are given below:
- Cooperative Unions Collective (located in Guidimakha).
- Union for Women’s Cooperatives.
- Pastoral Cooperative Associations (PCAs; established under the World Bank-financed Second Livestock Project).
- Orbetello Lagoon Fish Cooperative.
- SAVA Women Cooperative (for fish).
- Najah Cooperative (for vegetables; started in 1998).
- Union of Agricultural Cooperatives.
Some of the rural, agricultural cooperatives and unions in Mauritania that were strengthened through the financial assistance of the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF), which has an office in Nouakchott, are:
- Boghe Herders Milk Production and Sale (700 herder members including 400 women); main activity milk production and processing.
- Women’s Cooperative of N’Doukougne, which is a gardening cooperative with 289 women members; aims at creating income-generating activities and promoting nutrition among local populations.
- Saada Agricultural Cooperative, which is a women’s gardening cooperative of 141 members; promotes vegetables production and animal husbandry activities.
- Ganki Toro Women’s Agricultural Cooperative (an agro-pastoral cooperative with 115 members; involved in promoting farming and animal husbandry activities).
- Union of Participatory Management Associations of the Oases in the Assaba (UAGPO) represents 4,500 members operating in 25 associations in the Assaba Region.
- Departmental Union of Women’s Cooperatives (UCFDM) – a union of 117 women’s gardening cooperatives representing 5,000 members; promotes vegetables production and animal husbandry activities to create income and resources.
- Union of Oases Associations in the Adrar (UNASOAD) – a union of 25 associations representing more than 6,000 producers; helps in organization, and improvement of marketing strategies; producers mostly growing carrots and dates, but want to diversify production.
List of Extension Providers
The following list shows an excerpt from the GFRAS Directory of Extension Providers for Mauritania. Some of these entries may be specially marked for having more detailed information in the database of the Worldwide Extension Study WWES.
Training Options for Extension Professionals
Although Mauritania has several institutions of higher learning (such as University of Nouakchott, founded in 1981); National School for Administration, established in 1966, which became the School for Technical Sciences in 1995; Advanced Institute for Islamic Studies and Research founded in 1979; Advanced Center for Technical Education established in 1980, and Advanced Scientific Institute, established in 1986, it still does not have a college or university which offers degree programs in agricultural and rural sciences. Due to this reason, Mauritanians have been going abroad to pursue higher education in agriculture. After the disastrous drought of the 1970s, USAID funded a project under which a large number of nationals were enrolled in degree programs and short training courses at American universities, especially those located in the southern United States.
For basic pre-service training as well as for in-service training, the only training institution available in Mauritania is the National School of Training in Agricultural Extension (ENFVA – Ecole Nationale de Formation en Vulgarisation Agricole), located in Kaedi. This school was closed in 1995, but has been revived under a donor-funded project. In 2012, Delaware State University, USA, signed a five-year agreement with ENFVA to make significant research, training and extension contributions in the subject areas of horticulture, dry land agriculture, protective agriculture and bio-energy.
In-service training in technical subject-matter may be arranged in collaboration with the following research institutions:
- Mauritanian Institute of Oceanographic Research and Fisheries (IMROP).
- National Agricultural Research and Development Center (CNRADA).
- National Livestock and Veterinary Research Center (CNERV).
- National Anti-Locust Center (CNLA).
Info-Mediaries and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Agriculture and Extension
A number of factors including intermittent droughts, poverty, and a lack of adequate infrastructure, low literacy level, nomadic lifestyle, and conservative social beliefs have hindered the popularization and development of ICT in Mauritania. The first computer division in the Ministry of Finance was not established until 1974, and reportedly, the first PCs appeared only in the mid-1980s. According to a study, Mauritania had only 446 micro-computers, seven mini-computers, and 20 local networks of 10 machines in 1999.
The future of ICT adoption in the country started looking promising in 2000, with the finalization of Mauritania’s National Information and Communication Infrastructure (NICI) Plan. The lead role in this venture was played by the Science and Technology Faculty of the University of Nouakchott, and the Ministry of Communications, while UNDP and the UN Economic Commission for Africa provided assistance. The government has also created the State Secretariat for Information technologies (Le Secretariat d ’Etat aux Technoogies de l’Information et de la Communication). Besides joining certain regional ICT initiatives, the government has started many programs such as incorporation of ICT in the education system, training of staff in ICT, and the establishment of 500 literacy centers.
According to the World Bank, in 2012, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people) in Mauritania was 111.06. During the same year, the number of Internet users (per 100 people) in the country was 5.36. The World Bank has recently (2013) approved two $30 million credits to support efforts to strengthen telecommunications connectivity through fiber optic broadband network in Mauritania and Togo.
Interestingly, so far, the only agriculture related application of ICT in Mauritania is the “eLocust” computing devices, satellite images, and crowd sourced locust reports from nomads with cellphones, which is being pursued by the National Anti-Locust Center (CNLA), located in the capital city of Nouakchott. CNLA was able to identify a potential swarm advance for which the area concerned was treated with insecticides and an imminent disaster was successfully averted.
Resources and References
Adaptation Fund (no date; probably 2011). Project/Program Proposal, “Enhancing Resilience of Communities to the Adverse Effects of Climate Change on Food Security in Mauritania” .
African Development Bank (17 March 2005). Mauritania: Evaluation of Bank Assistance to the Agriculture Sector. Operations Evaluation Department (OPEV).
African Development Bank. 2012. National Integrated Rural Water Sector Project (PNISER): Project appraisal Report. OWAS Department.
Agyeman, O.T. 2007. ICT in Education in Mauritania. Survey of ICT and Education in Africa: Mauritania Country Report; available at www.infodev.org.
Cloud, K. 1987. A Study of the Lessons Learned in Implementation of A.I.D.’s Women in Development Policy in West and North Africa, the Near East, and Asia. A.I.D. Working Paper No. 85. United States Agency for International Development.
Fall, O. 1983. Rice Policies and Priorities in Mauritania. Unpublished M.Sc. Thesis; Department of Agricultural Economics, Michigan State University.
FAO .2013. List of Operationally Active Projects for All Organizational Units in Mauritania by Funding Source.
Frederiksen, Kamine and Associates, Inc. (no date). Mauritania Vegetable Production Project. United States Agency for International Development.
Hani, M., M. Blum, A. Mbaye, and A. Diop (no date; probably 2012). Stakeholder Processes for Reviewing Extension Systems: Comparative Analysis of Three Country Experiences. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
IFAD (no date). Approved Projects for Mauritania.
Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity (no date). Imraguen Women’s Mullet Bottarga: Mauritania.
Stads, G.J, A. Lo, and B.C. Diallo. 2004. Mauritania: Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators. ASTI Country Brief No. 15. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute.
Stads, G.J., S. Gueye, and M.L. Dia. 2010. Mauritania: Recent Developments in Agricultural Research. Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators Country Note. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute.
Starkey, P. 1996. Animal Traction in Mauritania: Situation and Prospects. . Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
UNESCO (no date; probably 1978). Mauritania; Education: Problems and Prospects.
U.S. African Development Foundation .2013. Mauritania: Investment Summary
- Authored by M. Kalim Qamar (September 2013)
- Edited by Burton E. Swanson