The ECOWAS Commission said on Wednesday it would establish a food and agriculture agency in 2013 as part of its plans to reduce food importation to the sub-region by 40 per cent.
Mr Ernest Aubee, Principal Programme Officer of the commission on Agriculture, said this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja.
Aubee said that the establishment of the agency was in line with directives from the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State to initiate concrete measures at tackling food insecurity in the sub-region.
He said that the agency would be established in the first quarter of 2013 and would be responsible for the effective coordination and monitoring of agricultural programmes carried out by the commission.
"We have got the political commitment from the heads of states and they have always given directives because hunger and food insecurity is a big challenge; it is even a political challenge.
"So they have given very clear directives and guidance as to how we can go about addressing issues of hunger and food insecurity and the ECOWAS commission, way back in 2005 to date, has been translating these decisions and directives of the heads of states into practical and concrete programmes across West Africa.
"In order to further implement these decisions, there will be an agency for agriculture and food which will be established early next year.
"It would be responsible for coordinating most of the projects and programmes in the Regional Agricultural Investment Plan.
"It will also be responsible for coordinating the interventions of development partners interested in different aspect of the regional agricultural development plan
"It will be doing resource mobilisation, involving monitoring and evaluation which is an important aspect of our work because we need to monitor the performance of all other stakeholders who are part of this drive to achieve food and nutrition security in West Africa."
Aubee also said that the commission had embarked on several projects under the Regional Agricultural Investment Plan including the Zero Hunger Initiative to also commence in 2013.
He said other projects included the rice initiative launched in September to increase rice production in the sub-region, and the implementation of the Regional Food Reserve Project.
The Programme Officer explained that the Regional Food Reserve Project would be in two parts; namely food and financial storage.
He said that the project was to enable the commission respond effectively to food crises caused by disasters in the sub-region.
Other projects include the ECOWAS Agriculture Regional Information System (ECOAGRIS) and the ECOWAS Livestock Plan.
Aubee said that the commission had finalised its Livestock Action Plan and agreed on technical cooperation with the United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
"We have agreed on a Technical cooperation Program to start working on the livestock value chain looking at the meat and milk value chain to see how best we can improve on producing meat and also milk production."
He said that the ECOAGRIS would enable member states to coordinate agricultural activities though information sharing, adding that implementation had begun in seven countries namely; Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Senegal, Mali, and Niger.
He said the implementation of ECOAGRIS in other countries would begin in 2013, explaining that such projects formed part of measures to reduce food import by 40 per cent over the next three years.
Aubee said the sub-region was faced with challenges of natural and man-made disasters, but expressed optimism that the sub-region would achieve the mandate of reducing food imports.
He said that commitment and consistent funding to these programmes by member states and donor agencies would facilitate the realisation of the ECOWAS Vision 2020.
"The member states are cooperating very well in as much as we get support from development partners, the bulk of ECOWAS funding for all the development initiatives that we undertake comes from the member states because the member states contribute to the funding through a mechanism called community levy.
"At the level of ECOWAS commission we have committed, over the next five years, that 15 per cent our own budget will be for agriculture because agriculture is the engine of growth; agriculture contributes a significant portion to the overall gross domestic product of West Africa just to make sure that there is enough funding for agricultural interventions because if you have nice plans and programmes and you don't have funding to back it, it doesn't mean much.
"So, funding is important; commitment is important and also the resilience and hard work of our farmers are very important because without them there will be not regional integration."
Aubee also said that there was enhanced response of member states to the commitment of 10 per cent of their national budgets to agriculture. NAN