ECOWAS Commission President, Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas, has described last year's food crisis that created shortages and catapulted the prices of foodstuffs as a wake up call for regional agricultural revival.
This will enable the bloc to feed its teeming population, generate employment and the raw materials to support industries.
In a presentation at the opening of the second ECOWAS business forum in Ouagadougou last week, Dr Chambas said the crisis showed the non-sustainability of the policy of ignoring the development of local agriculture in favour of imports and provided a “unique opportunity to re-launch West African agriculture as a business for sustainability”.
Focusing on the theme, “Harnessing Agricultural Potentials through Regional Partnerships”, Dr Chambas said the forum had reinforced an urgency that was consistent with one of the six priority programmes of the Commission for 2009 to pursue the implementation of the ECOWAS Agricultural Policy (ECOWAP).
The other five priorities include the development of regional infrastructure, removal of barriers to free movement, pursuit of other partnerships with emerging markets, negotiation of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union and increased engagement of the private sector in the integration process.
Dr Chambas, who spoke on the role of the private sector in the implementation of integration process, said there was a shared responsibility, including the private sector, who would become its greatest beneficiaries, to ensure the removal of the constraints to free movement.
While acknowledging that a functioning customs union was a requirement within the framework of the negotiation of the EPA, he said it was still necessary for the realisation of the region's integration agenda.
Dr Chambas appealed to the private sector to scale up its investment in all sectors, adopt concrete modalities for boosting investment in rice production, campaign vigorously against barriers to free movement as well as participate and sponsor more ECOWAS programmes in the future.
About 400 people, mostly from the private sector, participated in the three-day forum, a platform by ECOWAS to build synergy among the private sector and involve them more intensively in the integration process.