Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s president, speaks during the independence celebrations on Jamhuri Day at Kasarani stadium in Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. Kenyas main opposition alliance postponed indefinitely plans to swear-in its leader as president of a so-called Peoples Assembly, after the government warned such a step would amount to treason. Photographer: Luis Tato/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Food from the ocean, or blue foods, are essential for the future food and nutritional security of the Kenyan people. Sustainably increasing consumption and production of blue foods is a critical component of our country’s development strategy.

Blue foods also contribute to the Strategic Food Reserve programme in Kenya. Through this programme we seek to scale up the capacity and capability of our small-scale fishers to produce sustainably, add value to, and market fish and fisheries products for food, income and jobs.

These efforts demonstrate an important solution to two of the world’s greatest challenges: feeding the world’s growing population and eliminating poverty. Globally, blue foods could play a much larger role in improving nutrition and food security, and creating economic opportunities — but only if we transform our relationship with the ocean and the small-scale fishers whose livelihoods depend on it.

With smart policies and investments, fish, crustaceans, seaweeds, and other blue foods can act as superfoods that help solve many of the global food system’s challenges. Already, they provide a vital source of protein and nutrition for more than three billion people worldwide. For many countries in the Southern Hemisphere, they provide 50 percent of people’s average animal protein. 

Blue food solutions are needed now more than ever. COVID-19 has fueled a steep rise in hunger and poverty, which climate change is likely to worsen. Last year, around 811 million people, a tenth of the world’s population, were undernourished; meanwhile, the pandemic pushed 97 million more peopleinto extreme poverty. As we build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic, we should prioritize solutions that create a more equitable and sustainable food system.

For blue foods, our focus should be on where most fishers find their livelihoods: small-scale fisheries, which employ 90 percent of the over 120 million fish workers worldwide. Almost all these workers, over 90 percent, live in developing countries and most of their catch is for human consumption, pointing to their central role in food security and sustaining local economies.

Yet, small-scale fishers face numerous challenges. Overfishing is common throughout the world, often fueled by harmful subsidies and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, which deplete fish stocks. Inadequate scientific and technological capacity to improve sustainable production, inefficient distribution systems, and competition with larger industrial fleets also make it harder for small-scale fishers to generate sustainable incomes.


We need to fundamentally change our approach. With smarter management practices and technological innovation, research shows the ocean can sustainably produce much more food than it does today — up to two-thirds of the animal protein needed to feed the world’s population by 2050.

But simply producing more food is not enough. We must also ensure blue foods and the related economic benefits are equitably distributed. Local fishers in poorer nations do not have the means to compete with the larger industrial fishing fleets of wealthier countries. As fish become scarcer, the scales tip in favour of these industrialized operations who can fish for longer, farther and deeper — placing many African nations at a disadvantage. Only by putting small-scale actors at the heart of blue food policies can countries tackle these inequalities.

Some countries are taking action to address these challenges. In 2018, I joined 13 fellow heads of state under the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, to start addressing these global issues. We each committed to produce, protect and sustainably manage 100 percent of our national waters; and work towards ensuring wild fish stocks are restored and harvested at sustainable levels and that aquaculture is sustainably grown to meet global needs.

In Kenya, we recognize that small-scale fishers must be at the heart of any sustainable ocean plan. We should empower them to be stewards of our marine ecosystems. 

Kenya has taken several measures to support small scale fishers.  We have established Beach Management Units (BMUs), community-led organizations that bring together fishers, traders, boat owners and other local stakeholders, to better manage the ocean they all depend on. These units have been instrumental in safeguarding fisheries’ resources, sustainably managing our coastal areas and have provided many blue food initiatives with investment opportunities. And crucially, the benefits — more jobs, more food, more economic opportunities — go directly to local communities.

Kenya has seen first-hand the immense benefits for people, nature, and the economy that investing in small-scale fishers and local blue food programmes can bring. A healthy ocean and blue foods are indispensable to building a stronger, more sustainable, and equitable food system.


We look forward to working with more countries in championing blue foods as a vital way to feed more people equitably, sustain more livelihoods and preserve ocean health for future generations.

Uhuru Kenyatta is President of Kenya and a member of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy