Africa’s journey towards a sustainable blue economy

This past weekend, we put our heads together with Dr. Edward Mungai and explored the Blue Economy sector, informed by the Africa Blue Economy by the African Union. We came up with this article that was first published the article on KBC Channel 1

Today, we share with our readers the collective reflections on the outlook, challenges, and sustainability of the Blue Economy as we project a future where Africa can harness its aquatic resources responsibly and innovatively. The Blue Economy sector, traditionally seen as a vast reservoir of untapped resources, is undergoing a transformative process. This change is characterized by an increasing awareness of the finite nature of marine resources and the ecological implications of their exploitation. As a result, sustainability is no longer a peripheral concern but a central tenet in the strategic planning and operation of maritime industries.

The African Union’s Blue Economy Strategy provides a detailed vision for sustainably using Africa’s vast aquatic resources. This strategy aligns with Agenda 2063 and other global commitments, emphasizing the need to balance economic growth with environmental stewardship. The continent has 38 coastal states and several island states. They are however, all vulnerable to climate change which poses a tremendous development challenge.

Yet, we agree with the framework that there is still huge potential for the development of blue economy in a manner which, as the Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture of the African Union Commission Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko says in the strategy, is inclusive, integrated and sustainable. Africa is strategically endowed with abundant oceans, lakes, rivers, and other water bodies.

The continent’s Blue Economy is currently valued at USD 296 billion, providing 49 million jobs. By 2063, it is projected to create a value of USD 576 billion and 78 million jobs, accounting for approximately 5pc of the active population.

The sustainability – Blue Economy nexus

Beyond the sectorial opportunities, there is the concept of sustainability that sits at the heart of the Blue Economy strategy. This involves environmental responsibility, including addressing climate change impacts, pollution, and over-exploitation of resources. Economic inclusivity ensures that the benefits of the Blue Economy are equitably shared among all stakeholders, particularly coastal communities. Innovative governance is needed to develop effective policy and regulatory frameworks to secure investments in sea exploration and technology transfer. Social equity addresses issues of poverty, lack of capacity, and disenfranchisement in coastal and lake communities.

The fusion of sustainability and the blue economy is an evolutionary step in our approach to managing oceanic resources. This requisite convergence is reshaping the maritime sector, driving innovation, and prompting a re-evaluation of economic activities within the marine environment. It is a response to a dual challenge: the need to protect marine ecosystems and the imperative to support economic development. It is a critical step towards a more responsible and forward-looking approach to ocean resource management.

It requires a multifaceted strategy involving technological innovation, robust governance, and a shift in the perception of maritime resources from exploitable commodities to shared assets with intrinsic ecological value. This integration of sustainability and the Blue Economy process demands innovative approaches and solutions. For instance, the development of sustainable fishing practices that not only conserve fish populations but also support the livelihoods of communities dependent on fishing is crucial.

Similarly, the exploration of renewable energy sources, such as offshore wind and tidal energy, presents opportunities for sustainable economic growth while mitigating the impacts of climate change. Technology plays a pivotal role in this fusion. Advancements in marine science and technology are enabling more effective monitoring and management of oceanic resources.

From satellite surveillance to track illegal fishing to the use of AI in mapping and protecting marine biodiversity, technology is a key facilitator in the sustainable management of the blue economy. The path to a fully sustainable Blue Economy is however fraught with challenges. One significant obstacle is the lack of comprehensive and cohesive global governance structures. The high seas remain a largely ungoverned space, making enforcement of sustainable practices challenging. Further, there is often a gap between policy formulation and implementation, exacerbated by varying priorities and capacities among nations.

Opportunities in Blue Economy

Fisheries and aquaculture are critical to the African Blue Economy because they provide food security and livelihoods. The focus then is on optimizing conservation and sustainable use of these resources. However, challenges like overfishing and climate change impacts pose significant threats which needs to be address for aquaculture to unlock its full potential. Port and shipping also play a significant role in the Blue Economy. With only 3pc of world volumes, Africa’s role in international trade is small but growing. Modernizing ports and developing shipping infrastructure are crucial for enhancing Africa’s participation in global trade.

Sustainable Blue Energy is essential for the future. The exploration of blue energy sources like wave energy, Floating Photovoltaics (FPV), and offshore wind projects is crucial. As demand for energy increases, integrating sustainable blue energy resources into the national energy mix becomes increasingly important. Ocean mining offers immense potential for economic development. However, environmental concerns and the need for sustainable practices must be addressed.

Coastal tourism is another significant contributor to the Blue Economy and to GDP and employment. It has a lot of potential for growth particularly in eco-tourism, which could aid in ecosystem conservation and reduce ecological footprints. Blue Carbon and Ecosystem Services also play a role in mitigating climate change. The conservation of mangroves, salt marshes, and sea grasses aids in carbon sequestration and provides other ecosystem services like coastal protection and biomass production.

Several African and global policies support the Blue Economy concept including the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy (AIMS), the Policy Framework and Reform Strategy for Fisheries and Aquaculture in Africa (PFRS), the UN Agenda 2030, and the African Charter on Maritime Security and Safety (Lomé Charter). These frameworks emphasize on the sustainable use and conservation of aquatic resources and highlight the need for coherent governance, environmental protection, and social inclusivity.

The overarching goal is to ensure that Africa’s aquatic resources contribute significantly to continental transformation and growth. The future of the Blue Economy in Africa is full of opportunities and challenges. Key drivers of change include population growth, economic integration, and environmental and biodiversity protection. To capitalize on these opportunities, African nations must enhance governance, boost economic and social development, promote research and education, and strengthen regional and international collaboration through initiatives like AfCFTA and regional seas conventions.