‘Blue Economy’ is a term many people, particularly in countries without direct access to the oceans and seas, may not be very familiar with. However, the term is slowly, seriously, and steadily gaining ground among economists, fisheries experts, regional and international organissations.
It is a term that all economic planners need to understand and familiarise themselves with so that it is properly estimated and integrated into national gross domestic products.
Traditionally, the World Bank, the United Nations, and Commonwealth, among others, have defined the blue economy as a nexus of sea and ocean-related economic activities: oil exploration, marine transportation, tourism, and marine fisheries. It is different but related to the green economy- agriculture.
But, as Dr Eshete Dejen, programme manager for Sustainable Environment Protection, Agriculture & Environment Division at the Djibouti-headquartered Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), recently argued at a workshop funded by the Swedish Government and the EU through the Enhancing Equitable Economic Growth by Promoting Sustainable Fisheries in the Eastern Africa, Southern Africa and Indian Ocean region (Ecofish) for the blue economy focal persons and journalists drawn from the Igad region, Africa’s tentative position is that the definition of ‘Blue Economy’ should be extended to include inland water bodies, such as lakes and rivers.
Expanding the definition will be a mere academic exercise, however, since already the blue economy in Africa is booming side by side with other economies such as agriculture and mining.
As participants learnt during the Igad and Ecofish Nairobi workshops, blue economy activities are providing jobs to a number of citizens and excellent restaurant services to city dwellers.
In Kenya, for instance, several women are selling fresh and processed fish in city markets. Some, such as Mary Mallwa of Meat and Fish Supermarket, have done so for decades.
The proceeds from the fish-mongering business have been used to pay school fees for children and for household upkeep.
Another Nairobian, Faith Gikunda, a graduate journalist-cum-communication consultant shares a story of how fish-mongering helped her remain economically afloat during the Covid-19-fueled economic downturn.
Her fried fish business in Meru proved that there is hidden treasure in the waters of the African continent. She arranged with a Lake Victoria-based fish farming enterprise to be receiving fresh fish every day. And she was not disappointed at all.
In Malawi, the fish story is not different. Kaoza Nyaphiri resides in Monkey Bay, Mangochi district. She is in a team of 10 women who informally agreed to work together to catch or buy fish and transport it to Limbe Market, approximately 300 kilometres away, and wholesale it.
Every night the 10 women put their fish together and hire a minibus which leaves Monkey at about 2am and arrives in Limbe at around 5 the same morning with fresh fish from Lake Malawi. There the fish is auctioned.
One woman, out the 10, is charged with accompanying the fish to the market. The following day another woman goes. The women trust each other and prosper together. Like the women who rely on selling fish in Nairobi, Nyaphiri has been able to look after her children alone and pay fees for them up to university. Her husband died almost 30 years ago.
Ecofish)statistics indicate that 90 percent of fish in the region is undertaken by small scale fishers who produce approximately 5 million tonnes per year to cater for a 600 million population.
The fish value chain, from catching, through processing, to selling, employs 15 million people, the majority of whom are women. Unfortunately, since fish is highly perishable, the fish business experiences a 30-70 percent post-harvest loss (worth about $400 million) according to Ecofish.
Refrigeration is a must. Quick transportation is a must. Quick processing is a must. Fish is a business of musts.
Fish is protein and calcium rich. It is nutritious and good for all ages. As participants in the workshops learned, the potential of the fisheries industry is much higher than what the region is producing.
If the blue economy, with the fish sector as a priority is harnessed and fully but sustainably exploited African economies stand to pull a number of people out of poverty and malnutrition.
The potential contribution of the blue economy to national nutrition, employment, and development is high and it is time we started taking it seriously. Let us develop our tourism, lake transportation systems, and fishing. How about packaging the lake fresh water for export?