Mauritania is a poor country, where primary nutrition dominates. About 50 percent of the labor force is in agriculture and fishing. While agriculture has been hit hard by repeated drought, fishing has been of great economic importance. The development of mining and industry has been hampered by the lack of infrastructure, the lack of skilled labor and limited domestic demand. In most cases, state and semi-state companies, which have controlled the mining and industrial sectors, have been uneconomical and have suffered from a lack of skills and planning.
A program to revitalize and privatize business began in the 1980s, and several state monopolies have been dissolved. Liberalization, new mineral deposits and significant debt write-offs have made Mauritania a good economic growth during the 1990s. In addition to iron, which has long been the most important export commodity, gold, oil and copper are mined in the country.
Agriculture, which accounts for about 50 percent of employment, is undeveloped and focused on self-sufficiency. The arable land, located in the country’s southern parts along the Senegal River, comprises only 0.4 percent of the country’s area. Primarily, rice, millet, sorghum and, in the oases, dates. Nomadic livestock management, mainly with sheep and goats, is more important than arable farming and provides almost half of the rural population. Recurring drought with the resulting desertification has hit this nourishment hard.
As a result of the dry periods, yields vary greatly in agriculture and livestock management. Even in good years, Mauritania is not self-sufficient, and dependence on food aid is significant. Comprehensive programs to improve rural water supply have increased the proportion of rural people who have access to clean water from just over 30 percent in 1995 to just under half in 2008.
Mauritania is relatively mineral rich, and exports of iron, oil, gold and copper account for a large proportion of GDP. The country is one of Africa’s largest exporters of iron ore, and its plaster deposits are among the largest in the world. In addition, there are deposits of gold, uranium and phosphate.
The waters off the coast of Mauritania are among the world’s richest fish and fish has long been the second most important export commodity. However, the largest revenue comes from the sale of fishing licenses to mainly EU countries. Failure to monitor the fishing waters has led to extensive poaching, with overfishing as a result. However, the government has taken measures against depletion, among other things by reducing the quotas in licenses to EU countries.
According to Countryaah, Mauritania traditionally has a surplus in the trade balance. Since the extraction of oil, gold and copper started in the 00s, export earnings have increased further. The country’s low industrialization rate makes Mauritania highly import dependent. Imports, which come mainly from Belgium, the United Arab Emirates, USA, consist of consumer goods (especially food), chemical products, petroleum products, machinery and transport. Nearly half of exports go to China. Other important exporting countries are Switzerland and Spain. Smuggling to Senegal and Mali is extensive. Foreign debt is significant despite large depreciation, and Mauritania is heavily dependent on aid.
Tourism and gastronomy
Due to the troubled political situation, Mauritania has a small tourism industry. The country’s strangest sights are still difficult to access, although there is a gradual adjustment to tourism needs.
This applies to the millennial Islamic cities that have so lost the battle against desert sand: Ouadane and Chinguetti in the north, Dhar Tichitt and Oualata in the southeast are still vibrant cities with ancient mosques and beautifully painted residential buildings. Ruins from the same periods are being dug out of the sand. All are listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
In contrast to the sand, the area along the Senegal River and the oases in the north and east appear as intensely green. South of Nouadhibou is the Banc d’Arguin National Park, with sea birds, for example.
Modern hotels are found in the cities of Nouakchott and Nouadhibou.
For a long time most of the population was nomadic, which has resulted in a tradition of simple kitchens: grilled meat or pots with goat or mutton, perhaps mixed with rice or millet. Coconut as well as legumes are often used. In the south, millet porridge and bean pan are everyday food. Along the coast, fishing for bands provides different rock, shark, sea bass, sea bream and bonit a completely different diet. Grilled fish is common, as are pots seasoned with, for example, garlic, pepper, cayenne pepper and coconut.