Q & A on what the blue economy means for Kenya and Africa

With plans now fully underway to host the first ever, Sustainable Blue Economy Conference from 26-28 November in Nairobi, the Principal Secretary for the State Department for Fisheries, Aquaculture and the Blue Economy, Prof Micheni Japhet Ntiba (pictured) responds to some of the important questions about the Conference and why Kenya has taken the leadership to host this important global conference:

Q: From the perspective of the Fisheries Sector in which you are also an acknowledged expert, what are your expectations from the Blue Economy Conference?

Answer : Fisheries is a major component, globally, that contributes to global food and nutritional security. As you may also know, the Marine fisheries sector alone contributes a whopping US$ 270 Billion to the global GDP annually. Kenya is looking to increasing its own share of this phenomenal global returns which is currently quite low. The Blue Economy Conference is an opportunity for sharing of global experiences and learning from international best practice in the area of Blue Economy development, particularly with regards to the fisheries sector. The latest innovations in science and technology that can ignite blue growth will be shared. The conference will highlight opportunities available for investments in the fisheries sector and many others. Among the participants will be investors interested in the fisheries sector and related investment opportunities.  There will be room for partnerships and linkages that can advance ventures of interest, in order to create wealth and jobs. It is my hope that the conference should also address the status of the fisheries sector from the global perspective; including key issues that will lead to more equitable sharing of benefits that can be derived from a more sustainably managed global resource.

Q: How in your view will Kenya, benefit from hosting the Conference?

Answer : As I have said, the Conference presents an opportunity to bring the world’s leading Blue Economy players into the country for knowledge sharing; for collaboration and beneficial dialogue that should lead to the full development of our own Blue Economy potential.  Just like with other conferences that we have previously hosted, the SBEC is expected to attract as many delegates from as many corners of the world. This in itself will raise the global profile of Kenya as a serious contender who is ready to explore and expound its Blue Economy developmental agenda. When any country provides a world stage such as Kenya will have done, its profile and standing is enhanced leading to the international marketing of the country and its products.

Q: Please share some common examples’/illustrations showing why the Blue Economy has a great potential for Kenya and Africa?

Answer : The World Bank has estimated that the Blue Economy contributes about US$ 1.5 trillion per annum (3 per cent of global GDP) and creates approximately 350 million jobs in fishing, aquaculture, coastal and marine tourism as well as research activities. Out of this the Western Indian Ocean countries account for an estimated US$ 22 billion, and Kenya’s share is only 20 per cent; mainly coming from tourism. In a nutshell, it means there is much room to realize the full benefits of the Blue Economy from the other sectors.  

Q: What is Kenya’s main reason for taking the leadership to host this Global Conference?

Answer : Kenya’s long term national policy objective has been stated as the desire to achieve a strong and sustainable economic growth and providing a high quality of life for all citizens by the year 2030. To this end, one of the national priorities is to focus on the Blue Economy as the new foundation that will complement the more familiar reliance on ‘the Green Economy’. This objective is also very much in-line with our national commitment to the African Union Agenda 2063, aspiration 1 and especially goal 6 on Blue/Ocean Economy for accelerated economic growth; the commitment to the globally adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and especially SDG 14 that seeks to, “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. In addition, Kenya’s successful and historic hosting of the sixth session of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) that took place for the first time in an African soil; in Nairobi in August 2016 boosted our confidence. The very successful hosting of the conference and the leadership demonstrated endeared Kenya to offer to host the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference and, particularly, to lead Africa in this regard. As you may also know, the TICAD was graced by H.E Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan; a total of 29 African Heads of State and Government, six African vice-presidents and vice-prime ministers and a horde of other international dignitaries totalling well over 7,000 in number. During TICAD, a Blue Economy Side Event was organized by the State Department of Fisheries and the Blue Economy, assisted by the State Department of Shipping and Maritime Affairs; which event attracted high level participation by Ministers from African Countries and other high ranking officials from Government, Development Partners, Intergovernmental and Non-Governmental Organizations, Public and Private Sector Institutions as well as Financial Institutions. At that event, there was a near-unanimous recognition that Blue Economy was the new frontier for Africa’s sustainable development and economic growth. TICAD VI itself culminated in the ‘Nairobi Declaration’ that interalia, aims at advancing the Blue Economy Agenda.    

Q: How will the conference contribute to the global agenda for Sustainable development and “”Africa’s Agenda 2063?

Answer : The very overarching theme for the conference is, ‘Blue Economy and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. The conference will bring together Participants from around the world, including Africa, to share ideas on how to transition to a Blue Economy that:

  • Harnesses the potential of our oceans, seas, lakes and rivers to improve the lives of all, particularly developing states, which fits in well with SDGs Goal 14 that is concerned with Conservation and sustainable use the oceans, seas, and marine resources.
  • Leverages the latest innovations, scientific advances and best practices to build prosperity while conserving our waters for future generations.

Similarly, the AU’s ‘Agenda 2063’ has the Vision of “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in international arena”.  This vision envisages a prosperous Africa that is based on inclusive growth and sustainable development; a much more integrated continent that is politically united and driven by the ideals of Pan Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance. To say the least, these aspirations, include the ideals enunciated in the Blue Economy.  

Q: What, in your experience are some of the specific scientific? Technological and/or innovative measures; including global partnerships that can be used for delivering a sustainable Blue Economy?

Answer : Adoption, for example, of the Principles for a Sustainable Blue Economy that was recently released by World Wide Fund (WWF), is one good approach.  It entails the recognition that a sustainable Blue Economy should be inclusive, marked by stakeholder participation, well-informed, precautionary, and adaptive; accountable and transparent; holistic, cross-sectoral, and long-term; innovative and proactive. Technology and innovation in the Blue Economy should include recognizing the need for collaborative efforts, including developing action plans on blue innovations which should, among things, include the following:

  • The development of marine Sector Skills for emerging and new activities offshore,
  • Renewable energy;
  • mining and marine biotechnology;
  • Harvesting of living resources and farming in the seas;
  • Extraction of non-living resources and the generation of new resources;
  • Commerce and trade in and around the oceans, Lakes and Rivers,
  • Response to ocean health challenges;
  • Innovative financing to direct investments into those blue economic activities,
  • New types of tourism, food fares, and farms to table value-added recipes,


Q: Are there any examples of countries to your knowledge – where investments in the Blue Economy have actually transformed lives?

Answer :  I can readily give seven examples as follows:

  • In the Republic of South Africa through its ‘Operation’ Phakisa-an initiative of the government designed to fast track the implementation of solutions on critical development issues. A segment of Phakisa focuses on the ocean economy targeting four critical areas that are marine transport and manufacturing, offshore oil and gas exploration, aquaculture as well as marine protection services and ocean governance;
  • In Malaysia: Where Blue economy investment opportunities are focusing on green ports and shipping. This has generated a host of supporting economic activities, such as port operations, shipbuilding and ship repair, logistics, financing, and many others that generate income, employment, investment and other multiplier effects to the Malaysia’s economy. Their ports and shipping sector is poised towards greater benefits that could be gained through green development;
  • In the United States the National Ocean Economic Program (NOEP) of 2014 estimated values for the ocean economy. By its estimates, in 2010, the ocean economy comprised more than 2.7 million jobs and contributed over $258 billion (1.8 per cent) to the GDP of the United States;
  • In the case of China, it is estimated that the ocean economy contributed US$ 962bn (10 per cent of GDP) in 2014 and employing 9 million people;
  • In the case of a recent study by the World Bank and the Commonwealth Secretariat (Hampton and Jeyacheya 2013) estimated that the economic value of coral reef-related tourism and recreation in Indian Ocean Small Island Developing states (SIDs) was in the order of US$1.4 billion; a value that is only surpassed by the coastal protection value of coral reefs (US$1.58 billion).
  • In Indonesia, the ocean economy contributed 20 per cent of the national GDP; and
  • In Israel, high technology fish farming innovations are creating jobs and contributing to the economy.

Q: Why has Canada been the first to join with Kenya in hosting the Conference?

Answer : Kenya and Canada will be co-hosting the Blue Economy Conference to be held at the prestigious. There is, of course room for other countries and even entities to join in either as co-hosts and even as sponsors of the conference. The leaders of both Canada and Kenya have however consulted widely on the Blue Economy subject, including on the margins of the recently held Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in London, United Kingdom where they reached an agreement for Kenya and Canada to partner on the Blue Economy and find ways of harnessing ocean resources to support economic growth. The Prime Minister of Canada, HE Justin Trudeau, accepted President Uhuru Kenyatta’s request for Canada to co-host the Conference with Kenya in November 2018. The Prime Minister said Canada saw it as an opportunity for expanding trade with traditional partners like Kenya and similarly-minded countries in the 53-member Commonwealth states. This is an important milestone for the peoples and the Governments of the World, Kenya and Kenyans included.

Q: How will Kenya’s 47 counties be brought on board to be part of the Blue Economy agenda?

Answer : The involvement of Kenya’s 47 counties in every national development agenda is both critical and paramount and indeed, enshrined in the Constitution of Kenya (2010).  Their involvement will be through the existing inter-governmental mechanisms that create sustainable linkages amongst counties and between the National Government and the County Governments.  At the conference preparatory high level meetings, the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Devolution sits with the other four key Principal Secretaries from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Environment and that of Transport and Infrastructure, thus  collectively playing a lead role in ensuring that the participation of the counties is firmly articulated. Moroever, it is important to know that a high level Governors and Mayors of ocean facing cities forum has been provided for in the specific conference programme to ensure that our counties are not left behind.  

Q: What are some of the concrete steps that you would recommend that Kenya should put in place to tackle the global problems of pollution; environmental degradation and climate change, all of which seriously endanger our water resources and the collective human livelihoods?

Answer : Kenya and other governments should:

  • Domesticate the various existing comprehensive international instruments that have been signed and ratified, and seriously commit to their implementation and enforcement at local (country), regional and international levels; and,
  • Continuously, collect, compile and analyse a wide range of economic, social, and environmental data and information on which the desired actions may be taken in order to tackle global problems of pollution; environmental degradation and climate change humans are experiencing now.

Q: What are some of the best measures you can recommend that Governments should put in place in order to enhance knowledge and awareness about the need to protect and value our Blue Economy?

Answer : The Blue Economy Conference is putting considerable investments in the general publicity communication and awareness creation for the conference and even beyond. The continued utilization of the existing toolkits on Communication, Education, and Public Awareness (CEPA) is a part of this strategy and so far, so good, since more and more Kenyans are beginning to talk about the Blue Economy in homes, offices, schools, Universities, hotels, bus stops and in the streets of Nairobi and in the Counties.  Obviously this momentum has to be kept well beyond the conference.

Q: What in strict GDP terms would you say may be the value to our economy of serious investments in the Blue Economy sector?

Answer : Globally, it is estimated that the Blue Economy contributes about US$ 1.5 trillion per annum (3 per cent of global GDP) and creates approximately 350 million jobs in fishing, aquaculture, coastal and marine tourism and research activities.  Kenya believes that with serious investments in the Blue Economy sector, there is the potential to double the GDP and more in the short and medium term periods.

Q: How is the Private Sector, the academy and all other stakeholders poised to join in the conversation around the Blue Economy?

Answer : The complexities revolving around the enormous opportunities presented by the Blue Economy sector that include sustainable harvesting of living resources such as sea food and marine biotechnology, extraction of non-living resources (seabed mining), and generation of new resources (energy and fresh water), require a wide range of expertise and investment strategies. Accordingly, there should be a mechanism or at best, an avenue to engage all stakeholders in the Blue Economy deliberations.  As organizers of the conference we have therefore included a Business Forum as well as an Academic and Research Forum to specifically ensure that both Private Sector players and the academy participate fully and play their very crucial role in this conference. We do hope they will leave their mark in terms of business deals, academic- Research as well as partnerships-cum-long term linkages in the Development of Technology and Innovations.  Furthermore, a Governors and Mayors of ocean facing cities forum has been provided for in the programme as are provisions for various side meetings and exhibitions that will ensure that all stakeholders are part of the Blue Economy conversations. In a word, practically everyone is welcome to taste deep into the Blue Economy loaf and the experience that will be enveloping Kenya from Nairobi.

Q: Lastly: Where does the Blue Economy meet President Kenyatta’s Big Four Agenda?

Answer : The short answer is that when you break down the ‘Blue Economy’ to its logical end, you will realize that it all boils down to the ‘Big Four’ legacy agenda as spearheaded by HE the President. In terms of manufacturing for instance, there is an extremely huge scope in harnessing new technologies and other science-based ideas, including investments in engineering in order to tap fully into the opportunities that are directly associated with the Blue Economy. These include shipping; transportation and the entirety of international sea trade. Maritime Transport creates numerous job opportunities in ship building and repairs, vessel registration, seafaring, port operations, insurance, shore based auxiliary support and financial services that Kenya has hardly tapped into. In terms of Food Security, it is notable that oceans provide a substantial portion of the world’s food.  Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector accounting for about 47% of the global fish that is consumed. On a global scale, some 350 million jobs are directly linked to marine fisheries alone. The depletion of food stocks and destruction of fish breeding grounds has detrimental impact on the food and economic security of local populations; including indigenous communities, living along and around water bodies in Kenya and even beyond. Last but not least, we all just need to see that many of the world’s minerals are found within the oceans, seas, or in lands adjacent to inland water courses. Their sustainable extraction is what will protect the fragile marine and water ecosystems and enable countries like Kenya to benefit from important resources found within their jurisdictions.  In overall terms, the Blue Economy conference we are talking about is predicated on the two pillars of ‘sustainability’ and ‘productivity’. I believe that the global conversations and partnerships that will be triggered during and well after the conference shall be life-changing for many countries and  I can say in no uncertain terms that our potential with the ‘Big Four Agenda shall be greatly enhanced, leading to improved livelihoods that are essentially the central concern therein.