How Kenya can dip into the blue economy

The government has not presented a realistic strategic plan to develop the blue economy

In Summary

•One of the challenges Kenya is facing currently is a lack of funds to meet all our priorities under Vision 2030, besides the current four national priority pillars of President Uhuru Kenyatta.

•We should capitalise on the pledged resources from the conference but should also devise a realistic national blue economy plan, with a proposed budget, to solicit both local and external funding.

Fish on display during a past Lamu fishing competition
VALUE CHAIN: Fish on display during a past Lamu fishing competition
Image: PRAXIDES CHETI

With Lake Victoria to the west, Lake Turkana in the north, and the Indian Ocean forming the south-eastern boundary of the country, Kenya is well situated to benefit from the development of our blue economy.

Fisheries, tourism and maritime transport all form part of the blue economy. Oceans can also be used to generate renewable energy and act as a carbon sink to reduce global warming.

In November 2018, Kenya hosted the first international Sustainable Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi. The conference was mainly planned and organized by the Blue Economy Implementation Committee chaired by the Kenya Defence Force and included the principal secretaries from the Departments of Fisheries; Maritime and Shipping Affairs; the National Treasury; Transport, and the Environment.

 

At the time of the conference, numerous voluntary non-monetary and monetary commitments in the various sectors of the blue economy, amounting to about $172.2 billion, were pledged.

To date, the government of Kenya has yet to come up with any post-conference follow-up activities. Nor has it presented a realistic strategic plan or policies to develop the blue economy in the country. Andrew Tain, the chief executive of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, confirmed that what is relevant to all countries wanting to develop their blue economy, is an integrated approach bringing together science, research, technology and multiple relevant disciplines, to understand the various eco-systems within the oceans, rivers and lakes and the link between land and sea and how each affects the other. Kenya can learn from this, but we face numerous challenges.

Currently, we lack a critical mass of expertise in the water and land-use sectors to assess and monitor activities, such as, for example, pollution in catchment areas which negatively impacts on rivers, lakes and ground water. There are insufficient agricultural extension staff to help educate farmers to minimise the use of fertilizers and pesticides which drain into the major rivers.

A glaring consequence of this ignorance of sustainable agricultural practices is the fact that most of the flamingos in Lake Nakuru have disappeared. At the coastal area, Kenya lacks maritime expertise and offshore engineers in technology and infrastructure.

At the Nairobi conference, it became clear that for nations to develop their blue economies, strong financial support with partnerships between business, governments, donors, NGOs, foundations, and others is required.

One of the challenges Kenya is facing currently is a lack of funds to meet all our priorities under Vision 2030, besides the current four national priority pillars of President Uhuru Kenyatta. We should capitalise on the pledged resources from the conference but should also devise a realistic national blue economy plan, with a proposed budget, to solicit both local and external funding.

Fishermen going about their activities in lake Victoria. Photo/ file
Fishermen going about their activities in lake Victoria. Photo/ file

To exploit all areas of the blue economy, especially the marine aspects thereof, requires intensive research and innovation. Several advanced countries with coastlines and water masses are currently involved in innovative research. Unfortunately, in Kenya, research is not considered a national priority and therefore does not receive a large financial allocation.

 

Even where funds are available for blue economy research, it is fragmented and scattered among many ministries, departments, institutions and county governments.

For Kenya to benefit from the blue economy there are issues the government has to address. These include consolidating blue economic activities which are currently fragmented. Development of the blue economy and its activities should be integrated into a single department with its own comfortable budget to carry out, among other things, the recommendations of the Sustainable Blue Economy, Nairobi Declaration of 2018.

Given that fisheries forms part of the blue economy, there is no need to have a separate Department of Fisheries. Barbados has implemented this approach and Kenya should follow suit.

There is also a need to train a critical mass of cadres in all the key areas of the blue economy and fisheries. For example, the EU has invested in the education of young cadres of its member states in order to modernise and expand the maritime sector of the EU blue economy. This is what the government of Kenya should do urgently. Colleges and universities should have strong blue education curricula. Furthermore, following the example of Seychelles, the government should also introduce and support citizen science.

Another way is for the government to add value to existing blue economy activities. This was proposed during the Nairobi Sustainable Blue Economy Conference. For instance, Seychelles is educating local people in blue economy marketing and practical know-how, thus giving the country a greater opportunity to take control of its destiny and enjoy the advantages of a blue economy. Similarly, South Africa has introduced a development strategy known as Operation Phakisa which prioritises maritime skills and education to attract public-private partnerships and international private investors.

The government should also scale-up existing artisanry activities of local communities. For example, fishermen from Lake Turkana, Lake Victoria and along the coast should be assisted with modernised equipment such as refrigeration and deep-freezers to reduce post-harvest losses. Additionally, the fishermen should be supported by giving them direct access to markets by removing the middlemen who squeeze their profits.

Fish processing plants need to be constructed at strategic locations. This will minimize post-harvest losses, which in turn, will add value to the fishermen’s products and will create related employment opportunities for local communities. The county governments and national government should engage with donors like the EU and others to determine whether they would fund these plants.

Support for deeper ocean fishing is critical. However, this will be challenging as Kenyan fishermen will need bigger vessels to exploit the deep water off its continental shelf. Before the banning of foreign vessels in Kenyan waters by President Kenyatta, local fishermen were disadvantaged. However, with the ban in place, local fish processing could increase from the current 2,500 tonnes to 18,000 tonnes per year. An established coast guard in the Indian Ocean will also encourage fishermen to venture into deeper waters.

Amb John Kakonge
Amb John Kakonge

Businesses should also work closely with the Kenya Navy to protect their offshore activities such as the proposed mineral exploration. The government should strike partnerships with oil and gas companies who may be interested in investing in offshore activities.

However, caution is imperative as this will come with many unknown environmental risks, the case of the oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico is instructive. Regardless, the Kenya government should build expertise in robust environmental impact assessment for offshore activities prior to the onset of commercial mining. This, in turn, will help to ensure effective stewardship and preservation of the marine environment.

Kenya should take inspiration from countries like Indonesia, whose blue economy contributes 20% of its GDP. South Africa, Mauritius, and Seychelles have made robust efforts to involve their public and local communities in blue economy activities. This ensures recognition across the entire society of the true value of the water resources in their country’s rivers, lakes and seas.

To take advantage of its blue economy and the immense potential which it offers, Kenya must prioritize those areas in which it has a comparative advantage and where it can launch new projects or scale up those already in existence. The Kenyan government should also create an enabling environment to support efforts by the private sector and SMEs to become key players in the blue economy, in particular in such areas as marine tourism, marine transport and commercial fishing. Above all, the government should mainstream the blue economy into its national agenda for the future: Vision 2030.

Amb Kakonge is President of the Association of the Former International Civil Servants of the United Nations and other international organizations.