Eni SpA on Thursday said it plans to increase its dividend, as the Italian energy company seeks to boost shareholder returns and cut spending amid a production slowdown in its main operations in Africa.

Italy's largest oil and gas group plans to increase by 1.9% the dividend it pays in 2014 and by another 1.8% to 1.12 euros ($1.52) the payout in 2015. The company also said it expects to reduce its four-year capital expenditure plan by 5% to EUR53.8 billion, compared with its March estimate of EUR56.8 billion for 2013-2016.

"We have an ambitious plan...which also aims to remunerate our shareholders with a progressive distribution policy," Chief Executive Paolo Scaroni said in a telephone interview.

Eni said it would focus on developing oil and gas discoveries, which would allow it to boost production in coming years. The company sees new daily production of 500,000 barrels of oil equivalent by 2017.

Earlier Thursday, Eni announced a vast oil discovery in the Republic of Congo, as the company seeks new fields in Africa aimed at offsetting lower production in its key operational countries of Libya and Nigeria. Eni estimated the offshore finds hold 1.2 billion barrels of oil and 30 billion cubic meters of gas, with an overall potential of about 2.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent.

"This is an elephant find," said Mr. Scaroni in the interview, using the oil industry phrase that denotes a discovery that has at least 500 million barrels of oil equivalent.

The company has been affected by disruption to production in countries where it has significant assets--such as Libya, which is embroiled in political unrest, and Nigeria, where oil theft is rampant.

Eni has been successful in partially offsetting these disruptions with discoveries in new exploration areas in Mozambique, where its biggest gas find is located.

"Today's announcement of a further discovery offshore [Republic of]Congo will add new material oil volumes as soon as 2016," said Bernstein Research analyst Oswald Clint in a note.

The company said it predicts an average annual production growth of 3% in the 2014-2017 period, while the average yearly growth forecast for 2017-2023 is 4%. Last March, it had estimated a 3% annual growth in the 2013-2016 period and a 4% average for 2016-2022.

Eni said it expects this year's output to be in line with 2013's production.

Eni on Thursday said its fourth-quarter net profit dropped 14%, as the company suffered disruptions to its large business in Africa, weaker refining results and the appreciation of the euro against the U.S. dollar.

The company's profit, adjusted for changes in the value of oil inventories and one-off gains and losses from asset sales, was EUR1.30 billion ($1.78 billion), compared with EUR1.52 billion a year earlier. Net sales from operations slipped 19% to EUR26.3 billion.

Eni joined its peers in reporting dismal earnings for the last quarter, as production disruptions in Africa, higher costs and increased competition in refinery activities, amid weak demand, hit results. France's Total SA said Wednesday its net profit for the period fell 31%. Royal Dutch Shell PLC issued its first profit warning in a decade in January, and BP PLC also said net earnings fell sharply.

Selina Williams in London contributed to this article.

Write to Liam Moloney at liam.moloney@wsj.com

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