Empowering Africa’s Coasts For A Blue Economy

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Written by D.A. Barber

Marine pollution, climate change and overfishing are problems in all the world’s oceans, but nowhere are they more evident than the coastal regions and islands of sub-Saharan Africa.

Stakeholders are wrapping up a meeting this week in The Hague, Netherlands, aimed at marshaling coordinated action to restore the health of the world’s oceans. Of particular interest is securing the long-term food security for a growing global coastal population.

The goal of the conference, entitled Global Oceans Action Summit for Food Security, is to bring attention and increased investment to threats of overfishing, habitat destruction, marine pollution and climate change.

“The importance of the oceans as a source of healthy foods and as the basis for many different livelihoods is often undervalued, including in Sub-Saharan Africa,” said Gabriella Bianchi, senior fisheries officer for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, in an AFKInsider interview. “Overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and climate change are threatening the marine environment, and its potential to be the basis for a blue economy.”

Seventeen percent of global animal protein intake comes from fisheries and aquaculture, and demand for fish protein is expected to double in the next 20 years, according to the U.N. For coastal Africa, the marine protein consumption averages 21 percent daily and as high as 80 percent in Sierra Leone, according to the World Bank.

“For some 200 million people — about 30 percent of the continent’s population — fish is the main and lowest-cost source of animal protein,”said Tim Bostock, senior fisheries specialist at the World Bank, in an AFKInsider interview. “Current estimates of global per capita consumption are 36 pounds. In some places such as Sierra Leone, however, consumption can reach well over this — perhaps as much as 220 pounds per person even more amongst the rural poor.”

Africa’s Blue Economy

In addition to being a critical source of protein, Africa’s blue economy provides livelihoods for fishermen and processors, supplies hard currency from exports of fishery products, and boosts government revenues through taxes. In fact, the entire fisheries sector, including fishing, processing, marketing, trade, licensing of local fleets, provides a growth opportunity in Africa.

In 2012, around 58.3 million people were engaged in fisheries and aquaculture in Africa, Bianchi said.

The blue economy contributes more than 6 percent of gross domestic product in some countries including Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, and Sierra Leone, according to the World Bank. It supports 230,000 people in Sierra Leone and 850,000 households in Mozambique. In Mauritania, it represents 27 percent of revenues and 33 percent of total export revenues. In all, fisheries alone provide livelihoods to over 10 million men and women engaged in catching, processing and trade. Many are small-scale operators supplying food to local and subregional markets.

“For almost all African coastal states, fisheries are major contributors to rural livelihoods, income and food security,” Bostock told AFKInsider. “They also attract considerable amount of foreign investment which, in some cases, provides a mainstay of foreign exchange for public finance.”

Threats to the region’s blue economy — food, jobs and economic development opportunities provided by oceanfront regions — already sparked increased interest earlier this year in Africa.

The concept of a blue economy is to bring about a change in mindset toward the whole economic development process of conceptualization, strategy, planning and monitoring of regional oceanic resources.

Eight of the 15 Southern Africa Development Community member states are coastal or oceanic states. SADC Executive Secretary Stergomena Lawrence Tax said it was time for the member states to embrace the blue economy development initiative being spearheaded by the Republic of Seychelles.

Speaking at the Blue Economy Summit in Abu Dhabi Jan. 21, 2014, Tax said the Seychelles blue economy initiative will help create a sustainable pattern of oceanic resources development.

Like the Southern Africa Development Community, the African Union is embracing the economic possibilities of a blue economy strategy. In her opening remarks at the 2013 Mo Ibrahim Foundation Forum in November, A.U. Commission Chairwoman Dlamini Zuma said, “To the green economy, we must add the blue economy, namely maritime resources and the all economy around the maritime industry.”

Zuma said a chapter of the Agenda 2063 — a strategy to optimize the use of the continent’s resources to benefit all Africans – would be dedicated to the blue economy concept.

The 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy, an African comprehensive and integrative vision, has also been developed by the A.U. Commission placing a heavy emphasis on a socioeconomic blue economic and blue growth development to benefit future African generations.

South Africa is developing its own blue economy strategy. A number of South African government agencies have analyzed the economic opportunities for the region and identified key areas that include aquaculture, marine transport and offshore oil-and-gas exploration as crucial in growing the country’s blue economy.

The Abidjan Convention held in March in Cape Town covered the marine environment and coastal zones from Mauritania to South Africa. Edna Molewa, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister, said: “We…need to examine how we should embrace the concept of the blue economy. Our oceans and coasts must be seen for the potential (they) have to grow the prosperity of our nations and well being of our people.”

But it is the small African island states that are the most vulnerable and dependent on their ocean resources. Food security is critical for islands since they are isolated from key import markets and limited in the quantity of food they can produce. The islands are also the first to be affected by climate change and rising sea levels. This is why the 155-island Republic of Seychelles, some 900 miles off of Southeast Africa, has championed the blue economy concept.

Seychelles President James A. Michel said that 2014 is the International Year of Small Island States during his State of the Nation address Feb. 26. “We are advocates in the cause of small island states, for the defense and protection of the environment, and — more recently –for the blue economy, which is a pillar of Seychelles diplomacy.”

An expensive threat

The Global Oceans Action Summit wrapping up this week is focusing on solutions to some of the threats to the blue economy concept that have led to overfishing and marine pollution, including “balancing the demand for growth with the need for conservation of marine areas; addressing illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the high seas and within national exclusive economic zones; and ensuring private sector growth does not come at the expense of protecting the livelihoods of local communities.”

While much of the focus has centered on the economic effects of overfishing and the uptick in marine pollution, the apparent acceleration of climate change and rising sea levels brings new worries to coastal regions by threatening biodiversity, altering habitats and changing the productivity of fisheries, according to the U.N.

“Although these (threats) have focused largely on fisheries, similar challenges exist in other sectors such as marine tourism and sustainable coastal development,” said World Bank’s Bostock. “If African nations are to benefit more and sustainably from the enormous resource endowments that many are fortunate to possess, there needs to be concerted effort and alignment towards tackling the downward spiral of erosion, and aligning policies toward blue economic growth.”

According to a new study led by Berlin-based thinktank Global Climate Forum and the University of Southampton, “global average storm surge damages could increase from about $10-billion-to-$40-billion per year today to up to $100,000 billion per year by the end of century, if no adaptation action is taken.”

For African coastal and island countries, meeting the economic challenge of adapting to rising sea levels will not be easy, notes the study’s lead author, Jochen Hinkel from Global Climate Forum. “Poor countries and heavily impacted small-island states are not able to make the necessary investments alone, they need international support.”

Hinkel said Africa may find international funding hard to come by since “international finance mechanisms have thus far proved sluggish in mobilizing funds for adapting to climate change.”

That does not deter blue economy advocates such as Seychelles President Michel, who said in his State of the Nation Address, “In an uncertain world, our future depends on diversification of our economy. And the blue economy presents the best chance for this. Our determination to lead the development of Seychelles towards a blue economy is bearing fruit. We have succeeded in getting this concept onto the world agenda.”

The good news is that Africa is becoming increasingly united in tackling these threats and is set to embark on a new era of ocean-based blue growth, saidWorld Bank’s Bostock.