Ivory Coast aims to become the rice bowl of West Africa as it ramps up production with an eye on beginning exports in 2018 and generating more than a million jobs. David Pollard reports.
It's been a grim time for West Africa's fledgling economies as they struggle with the impact of Ebola. But a small plant - rice - might brighten the future for one of them. Ivory Coast - which so far is untouched by the outbreak - has launched a bid to become a major rice producer - with an eye on becoming an exporter within a few years. It's spending four billion dollars to do it. Yacouba Dembele is director of the national office for rice development. (SOUNDBITE) (French) YACOUBA DEMBELE, OFFICE OF NATIONAL OFFICE FOR RICE DEVELOPMENT (ONDR) SAYING: "One of Ivory Coast's main goals is to be the granary of the region and from 2018 we want to start to satisfy its rice needs. I think with our standing, the entire region depends on us and we have the capacity to provide." From his office in Abidjan, Yacouba helps oversee a programme of investment in local producers. That includes giving high-yield seeds to farmers and bankrolliing new production areas and irrigation systems. The targets are ambitious. Ivory Coast is already the world's biggest cocoa producer - now it wants to become self-sufficient in rice production by 2016, and start exporting by 2018. Along the way, over a million new jobs should be created. The signs are good: rice production is on course to tripling in recent years. Less rice is brought in from abroad. (SOUNDBITE) (French) YACOUBA DEMBELE, OFFICE OF NATIONAL OFFICE FOR RICE DEVELOPMENT (ONDR) SAYING: "For the first time in 30 years, we have reduced our imports in Ivory Coast, down to about 30 percent. I think we'll be able to maintain the momentum this year. We have looked at the numbers, and I think that by the end of the year, we will have more or less the same levels." Africa looks set for a huge increase in rice output over the coming years. Asian markets, especially China, currently drive demand. That's expected to change as Africa itself consumes more. A prospect that should make Ivory Coast's multi-billion dollar bet a wise one.