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May 08, 2008

Mauritania increases credit for farmers

Mauritania’s president gave an upbeat assessment of the arid African country’s prospects of food self-sufficiency as he announced tripling of funds for loans to farmers.

With world food prices mounting, Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi said on television the northwest African state had the potential to make itself self-sufficient in food. He called on people to get over a dependency culture caused by years of catastrophe and drought.

"We have everything we need for production," he said: "fertile land, water and men. We now no longer have any excuse not to press ahead towards self-sufficiency in food."

A potential 140,000 hectares of fertile land was available, but only 20,000 had been cultivated last year, while the country was importing three quarters of its food needs, said the president. He called for an increase in rice production which had already risen from 39,900 tonnes in 2006 to 61,450 last year.

In order to maximise production, the state would take over any land not being developed by its owners, he warned. The president urged more wheat cultivation and said plans were in hand to build some 40 dykes to improve production during the rainy season.

Agricultural credits would be increased from 1.2 billion ouguiyas (5.1 million dollars) in 2007 to 3.8 billion ouguiyas this year, the president promised. He also said loans of 60,000 ouguiyas per hectare would be made available specifically to help smallholders, repayable over three years.

The president announced the setting up of a special aid fund for natural catastrophes affecting agriculture, and for purchase of agricultural equipment to be made available to all farmers.

African governments have been nervously confronting a mounting wave of often deadly social unrest caused by the soaring cost of food and fuel. There have been riots in Mauritania, and other west African countries including Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Senegal and Burkina Faso.

Mauritania is comparable in size to Egypt with an area of more than a million square kilometres, approximately three quarters of which is desert or semi-desert. As a result of extended, severe drought, the desert has been expanding since the mid-1960s. Most of the population still depends on agriculture and livestock for a livelihood.

The Times

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