The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is optimistic that an ambitious rice offensive programme would make self-sufficiency in production of the grain a reality in the sub-region by 2025.

It was a programme designed to enhance rice production in all member states, the Principal Programme Officer and ECOWAS Head of Agriculture Division, Mr Ernest Aubee, told the News Agency of Nigeria in Abuja on Monday.

"The programme will basically look at how the region can increase its production so as to meet consumption needs and reduce import.

"It will also create job opportunities for our own farmers especially youths and women.

"It will also improve the value chain so that it could be of high quality and nutritionally suitable for us as ECOWAS citizens to consume," Mr Aubee said. 

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ECOWAS believes that rice has become a highly strategic commodity in West Africa and is the largest source of food calories on the African continent.

"ECOWAS countries imported around nine million tonnes of milled rice in 2014, representing a cost of 4 billion Euros.

"To avoid risks of civil unrest and the scenarios of increased global food prices, there is an urgent need to increase rice production, processing, value-addition, and marketing in West Africa to achieve self-sufficiency.

"Currently, the region depends on imports from Asia to fulfil about half of its consumption needs.

"ECOWAS has initiated a regional offensive to reach rice self-sufficiency by 2025," he added.

The regional offensive for sustained recovery of rice production in West Africa Programme was approved by the ECOWAS Council of Ministers in June 2014.

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Aubee said that this offensive was aimed at reducing imports to zero level by 2025.

He also stated that the joint collaborative spirit aimed at supporting the rice offensive would energise rice production in the sub-region.