The Poor of Mauritania

The Washington Post has done excellent on-above-and-below-the-ground reporting all this week in its series on the global food crisis. To my mind, the most remarkable, and inarguably the most affecting, story was Anthony Faiola’s on Mauritania, which is caught in a trap it didn’t even know was being set. (That said, if you sell off your coastal fishing rights to massive foreign fleets, as cash-starved Mauritania did, you could predict a few problems. But that’s an aside.)

According to the UN World Food Program, 30 nations are experiencing “food insecurity,” and 22 of them are in Africa. Mauritania, especially, is in a very bad position: It produces little of its own food, leaving it exposed to a devastating escalation in commodities prices. The country’s now making agricultural production a major priority, understandably, but for the poor there at the moment, there are simply no options. Faiola profiles a day laborer and goatherd whose family lives in a shantytown: He’s slowly trading away “the family’s morning milk for dinner meat.” With nearly no goats left, and no milk for his children, he’s helpless. Still, he says he’d rather stay in the city than go back to his village. His logic is brutal:

There, you can die of hunger without realizing it. You don’t even see food. Here at least you can see it, even though you can’t get it. It kind of gives you hope. You can see it in a car passing by. That makes me happy.

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