Africa: Blue Economy Presents Vast Opportunities for Continent

Africa: Blue Economy Presents Vast Opportunities for Continent

From fishing to oil and gas, to tourism, the possibilities are immense

Oceans, rivers and lakes play an essential role in the lives of millions in Africa. Blue economy could contribute up to $1.5 trillion to the global economy if effectively and sustainably managed. For Africa Renewal, Finbarr Toesland interviewed Mika Odido, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) coordinator for Africa at UNESCO, on a range of blue economy issues, including the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021 – 2030) and the value of oceans for all Africans. Here are excerpts:

Africa Renewal: What is the ‘Ocean Decade’ all about and what does it aim to achieve?

Mr. Odido: Basically, the Ocean Decade aims to provide the knowledge system needed for policy and action to support sustainable development. We call it the ocean needed for the future of the world. There are a number of outcomes which we believe will define a successful decade.

There are seven outcomes that we are looking at meeting.

  • Firstly, we have to identity sources of pollution and reduce or remove them.
  • Secondly, help establish a healthy and resilient ocean where marine ecosystems are understood, as well as protected and restored.
  • Thirdly, we aim to achieve a productive ocean which can respond to changing ocean conditions,
  • Fourth, we aim to achieve a predicted ocean where the society understands and can respond to changing ocean conditions.
  • The fifth outcome is a safe ocean, where life and livelihoods are protected from ocean-related hazards.
  • The sixth is to have an accessible ocean with open and equitable access to data and information.
  • The seventh and final one is to create an inspiring and engaging ocean where society understands and values the ocean in relation to human wellbeing and sustainable development.

What is at stake in Africa in terms of the issues the Ocean Decade seeks to advocate and act on? Why should people care?

The waters that African coastal countries lay claim to are almost three times the size of the land.

If you look at the sort of resources we have in the oceans and seas, the opportunities are vast. From fishing to oil and gas, to tourism, the possibilities are immense.

Yes, there are challenges related to the oceans in Africa, the main one being the lack of capacity to make use of the resources available sustainably.

A couple of years ago, there was a cyclone all the way from Mozambique to Zambia and Malawi. We had not experienced phenomenon as extensive as this before. With climate change, such extreme events are only going to increase. We need the capacity to be able to address the impacts, but also to predict the impact so we can be able to prepare for them.

What would a successful Ocean Decade look like for Africa?

Success from my point of view is, first and foremost, being able understand our ocean environment and ecosystems.

Secondly, success is being able to utilise resources from the oceans.

If you look at the statistics on African fish consumption per capita, for example, it is really low compared to everywhere else in the world. For a continent which has a rapidly increasing population, we need to look at how we will increase production from the sea.

What are some impactful examples on the continent that can be celebrated and that can inspire replication?

One unique example we have on the management of waters in Africa is the joint management area established by Mauritius and Seychelles on the continental shelf. This enables both countries to share their resources and capacities. It also avoids the situation where there is contention over boundaries, meaning they are able to effectively use their resources for development.

Another example is the use of innovative financing mechanisms. The Seychelles has been a trailblazer on this too, with the blue bonds that have been used to finance ocean and coastal conservation and development.

A number of North African countries have been effective at developing coastal marine culture.

Other countries have excelled at putting in place mechanisms to rapidly develop the ocean economy.

South Africa has been implementing a project meant to quickly develop the contribution of the oceans to its economy. They looked at all the different aspects of the ocean economy and considered how they can be rapidly mobilised to the different aspects of the ocean economy with centralised planning. Guidance from the office of the president also ensures that all different players are able to coordinate their actions.

Where are the gaps you have identified so far and what do countries, institutions, communities need to do to fill them?

I believe we can quickly develop capacity as well as strengthen the capacity that we already have to better mobilise our shared resources.

The other factor that we need to look at is citizen science. How do we involve the citizens in collecting simple information that can be used for planning purpose? We know that in many parts of the continent people have related closely with the oceans for a long time and they have indigenous knowledge that can be used to be able to better manage the oceans.

The oceans don’t recognise boundaries, neither do the resources in the oceans. You can’t stop the fish swimming, for example, from Kenyan waters to Tanzanian waters.

Similarly, working together will enable us to move very rapidly in enhancing our oceans.

For more on the Ocean Decade, visit: https://www.oceandecade.org/

Facts and figures about oceans in Africa

38 – number of coastal states

90 % – volume of imports & exports conducted by sea

$100 billion – estimated value added generated by coastal tourism by 2030

49 million – number of jobs currently generated in the blue economy sectors

$405 billion – projected value of African blue economy by 2030

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