Op-Ed: How Africa can boost its blue economy

By Maram Ahmed, Senior Fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

The blue economy has immense value and lots of opportunity for Africa.

During the Coronavirus pandemic, it has been at the heart of global supply chains and will no doubt be vital in recovery efforts.

An increasingly popular concept in policy circles, the blue economy is the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs and ocean ecosystem health” according to the World Bank.

READ: Op-Ed: Why Africa’s blue economy is one of its biggest opportunities

Traditional blue economy industries such as tourism, fisheries and maritime transport as well as non-traditional industries, such as renewable energy, aquaculture, marine biotechnology, have vast potential to meet growing economic demands.

The importance of the blue economy is further highlighted in the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal number 14 “to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”.

Given oceans do not exist in a vacuum and have no borders, south-south cooperation and partnerships within both the public and private sectors can help boost the blue economy.

South-South cooperation refers to developing countries in the “Global South” working together to find solutions to common development challenges according to the UN’s Office for South-South Cooperation. Cooperation includes the sharing of knowledge, resources and technology in areas such as climate change, agriculture, urbanisation and so on. 

There are common concerns shared by countries in the Global South with regards to the blue economy, such as the adverse impacts of climate change, rising sea levels, increase in natural disasters like droughts, coastal erosion and the depletion of ocean resources.

Going forward, prioritising policies and practices that ensure sustainable management and conservation of the ocean is vital. For example, enhancing sustainable practices in the fisheries industry to prevent overfishing and illegal fishing would go a long way.

Over the past few decades, fish stocks have considerably decreased disrupting marine ecosystems. In Africa alone the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa estimates the continent loses around US$ 42 billion per year through illegal fishing activities – putting added strain on the oceans.

This is not a problem Africa alone is facing as the issue persists in the Global South, ie, developing countries, which are located primarily in the Southern Hemisphere, therefore it should be addressed in cooperation with these countries through South-South cooperation. Knowledge sharing and formulating strategic frameworks in a concerted manner is an ideal approach. Ultimately, it may help safeguard Africa’s fisheries sector and offer new pathways for sustainable development.  

Another way South-South cooperation can boost the blue economy is by collectively combatting the impact climate change is having on the oceans.

The oceans are being unprecedentedly impacted by climate change on multiple fronts – changes in water temperature, acidification and loss of biodiversity are disrupting and degrading coastal and marine ecosystems.

Greater collaboration to integrate cross-border policies to preserve the health of the oceans and the underlying marine ecosystems shared, can harness the blue economy efficiently.

As seventy percent of African countries are coastal, the Blue Economy is a low hanging fruit for many countries. It offers the opportunity for countries on the continent to not only diversify their economies and preserve marine ecosystems but it could help transition some countries to middle-income status.

A key to unlocking the potential of the blue economy is through promoting South-South cooperation. It no way displaces north-south cooperation but rather complements it.

Sharing of knowledge, technology, expertise through South-South cooperation would be a catalyst to the growth of the blue economy.

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