* Louis Dreyfus already signed up for investment
* Move to diversify from cocoa
* Demand rises: average citizen eats 63 kilos rice a year
By Gus Trompiz
PARIS, Feb 25 Ivory Coast aims to end its
reliance on imports and become self-sufficient in rice within
three years by using foreign firms to drive a jump in output,
officials said on Tuesday.
The ambitious plan is part of a $4 billion investment
programme in agriculture to 2016 that calls for 2.4 million new
jobs, diversification beyond the dominant cocoa sector and
greater domestic processing of commodities.
Africa's dependence on rice imports became marked during a
global surge in agricultural commodity prices in 2007-2008 that
fuelled protests in some countries.
"What has changed since the crisis of 2007-2008 is the
consciousness among African countries that we should exploit our
natural potential," Ivory Coast Agriculture Minister Mamadou
Sangofowa Coulibaly told reporters at the annual Paris farm
"In Ivory Coast, we're talking about 63 kilos per inhabitant
per year, it's considerable," he said of rice consumption.
The country is pinning its hopes on foreign companies, like
trading giant Louis Dreyfus Commodities, with which it has
signed agreements under which the firms will oversee rice output
and marketing in 10 production zones.
Alongside Louis Dreyfus, which unveiled a year ago plans to
invest up to $62 million jointly with the Ivorian government in
raising rise output, the authorities have signed
investment agreements with foreign firms including Cevital,
Export Trading Group and Ameropa, said Yacouba Dembele, head of
the Ivorian rice office.
To meet annual demand of around 1.5 million tonnes from an
Ivorian population of 24 million, the government plans to raise
milled rice output to 1.9 million tonnes in 2016, opening the
possibility the country could become a rice exporter, he said.
Ivory Coast has in recent years imported as much as 1
million tonnes annually.
The foreign companies would expand milling capacity and
coordinate marketing of local production, he said, noting that a
rise in paddy rice output last year on the back of new seed
varieties had strained processing capacity.
Provisional estimates for 2013 already showed that domestic
output rose to just over 1 million tonnes while imports fell to
800,000 tonnes, he said.
Rising rice consumption would mean meeting demand would be
challenging enough without also attempting exports, he said.
"Demand in 2016 could be above the 1.9 million tonnes we are
aiming for. We have to move faster."
(Editing by William Hardy)