Opinion: Coastal region should spearhead Kenya’s blue economy agenda

Written By: Kingori Choto

Ship at the Kilindini channel to discharge cargo | KPA

Hosting the first-ever Sustainable Blue Economy Conference in November 2018, attended by 16,000 delegates from 184 countries, Kenya emerged as a global champion of the blue economy.

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The conference ended with global commitments to fully harness the potential of oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers to accelerate economic growth, create jobs, and eradicate poverty. Participating countries also pledged to protect and conserve marine and aquatic ecosystems in order to build a sustainable, equitable, and clean blue economy.

Blue economy mainly refers to all economic activities related to oceans, seas, and coasts. These include fisheries, aquaculture, offshore oil and gas, ocean energy, shipping, tourism, ports, marine transport, and mining. On its part, the World Bank defines blue economy as “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs, while preserving the health of the ocean ecosystem”.

From this definition, one of many, exploitation of marine resources must therefore go hand in glove with preserving this valuable natural heritage for future generations.

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Available data reveals that Kenya’s blue economy is still undeveloped despite having a 600 kilometre coastline on the Western Indian Ocean. In addition, Kenya’s ocean territory comprising the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), spans 245,000 square kilometres, equivalent to half of the country’s total land surface area.

Harnessing the wealth

In terms of economic value, Kenya’s share of the entire blue economy of the Western Indian Ocean is said to be valued at Kshs 400 billion($ 4 billion) or 4 percent of the country’s GDP.

Currently, the blue economy contributes about Kshs 200 billion to Kenya’s economic output, mostly through fisheries and tourism. Yet this is only half the value that our maritime domain can generate if fully tapped. There is therefore a huge potential to diversify into emerging blue economy sectors like renewable energy, marine engineering, aquaculture, ecotourism, mining, and oil and gas exploitation.

Properly utilized, the blue economy is capable of catapulting Kenya into a regional economic powerhouse, as captured in the Kenya Vision 2030.

Besides expanding the country’s economy, the maritime economy has the potential to transform the economic and social landscape of the six coastal counties of Kwale, Kilifi, Mombasa, Tana River, Lamu, and Taita Taveta. These counties have a major role in driving the country’s maritime economic agenda since they host most of the economic activities that make up the blue economy.

The Gross County Product (GCP) 2019, a comprehensive analysis of economic output at the county level, shows that in 2017, the six coastal counties combined generated Ksh 700 billion or 9 percent of GDP. Moreover, Mombasa, Kwale, Lamu, and Kilifi constitute the country’s main tourism hub.

The role of counties

Ideally, the coastal counties should be spearheading the national blue economy agenda. Integrating the maritime economy into the coastal development programs will certainly boost the economic fortunes of the region. Hence the need for the coastal counties to work closely with the National Government in realizing this goal.

Fortunately, the political framework is already in place with the formation of a regional coastal economic bloc called Jumuiya ya Kaunti za Pwani (JKP).

What is now required is a focused approach involving the National Government, counties, and the local communities. Specifically, a three-pronged approach would provide the much-needed impetus to increase the ‘blue share’ of Kenya’s economy while transforming the social and economic fortunes of the coastal region.

Securing blue economy wealth

First, we need to diversify our maritime economy to reduce over-reliance on mainstay sectors like fisheries and tourism which together account for over half of the Blue Value generated. We should also put more effort into tackling illegal fishing in Kenya’s coastal waters which poses a major threat to the sustainability of the maritime fisheries industry.

In this regard, the establishment of the Kenya Coast Guard Services to combat illegal activities in the EEZ is a pointer to the seriousness with which the State is taking the matter.

There is also the ongoing re-development of Liwatoni Fish Landing Site into a modern fishing port. Once complete, all fishing vessels operating in Kenyan waters will be required to land their catch at Kenyan ports. The planned tuna fish factory at Liwatoni will further boost the country’s fish processing capacity.

Counties in the region should also promote local value addition in fisheries so as to attract private investors willing to put up fish processing factories thus creating more jobs. On tourism, JKP and other stakeholders should actively protect marine ecosystems.

Diversifying into emerging blue economy sectors will boost the economic resilience and survival of local communities through the creation of business and livelihood opportunities especially for youth in areas like marine transport, ship and boat building, ecotourism, mining, and oil and gas.

Second, there is a need to intensify marine conservation efforts as part of building a sustainable, equitable, and clean blue economy. This will ensure the sustainability of key economic activities like fisheries and tourism whilst protecting coastal communities from the effects of climate change.

Moreover, ecotourism is a fast-growing blue economy emerging sector the country can leverage to enhance its attractiveness as a tourism destination. Involving local communities in maritime conservation projects will also help address massive unemployment in the region and reduce pressures on key institutions like the Kenya Ports Authority.

Third, is the need for a participatory approach involving the local communities and especially the youth in the blue economy. Unemployment and idleness among youth have been blamed for insecurity and crime in Mombasa and the coastal region.

From the foregoing, it is clear opportunities abound for youth to actively drive the blue economy agenda through entrepreneurship, employment, and conservation projects. Youth participation in the blue economy can be integrated into ongoing programs on de-radicalization and countering violent extremism.

Working closely with the national government, the leadership of the coastal counties under the auspices of JKP should move quickly to ensure the region, which stands to gain immensely from a revitalized blue economy, plays the vanguard role.

Mr. Choto is a lawyer and public affairs consultant ( kingorichoto@gmail.com)

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent KBC’s opinion.

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