True value of the blue economy to Kenya

Kenya has not fully exploited the resources found in our waters, which constitute what is called the blue economy.

The ongoing blue economy conference at the KICC, Nairobi, has brought together thousands of delegates to deliberate on how best to develop the economy around water. However, different institutions understand this concept of the blue economy differently.

According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem."

Oceans are increasingly gaining importance in terms of enabling international trade via linking sellers and buyers. The behaviour patterns of such linkage enablers on the oceans are receiving more attention from a regulatory and economic perspective as the relationship between land and ocean evolves in its role and importance. The “blue economy” as a concept finds its origin against this background.

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Oceans economy

However, the concept of “oceans economy” or “blue economy” is recent and originated from the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012. The UN Sustainable Development Goal number 14 is based on the thinking that livelihoods can be improved if life under water is conserved and also used for the good of human beings.

Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods. Unfortunately fish stocks are being over-exploited below sustainable levels.

In Kenya, we have underutilised resources from our waters. Every year when it rains, billions of gallons of water go to waste. At best, the rains cause havoc through flooding.

There is a direct correlation between blue economy and livelihoods and food security. For Kenya, in particular it is not just the oceans or lakes but the potential for harnessing rainwater for irrigation and human consumption.  

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With proper planning, Kenya can grow more food than it needs. In the aftermath of devolution with the support of the county governments, we have seen communities that previously were exclusively pastoralists now growing fruits and other types of food. Unfortunately, year in and year out, nothing substantive happens in the conservation of rainwater.

It is incomprehensible that Kenya is importing fish from China. This, while most of the fish harvested from our lakes is rotting due to lack storage and transport facilities. Yet we have enough fish that can satisfy our demand and even for export.

Recently a friend called from Mogadishu requesting me to find a market for fish from Somalia. Even with a fragile state, Somalia is using the ocean route to export both meat and live animals.

The opportunities for exploiting our ocean and lake resources are enormous, but the plan to achieve this is lacking. The Government plans, including the Big 4 agenda, do not emphasise the blue economy and how this resource can be exploited for our benefit.

Foreign currency

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One area that Kenya can attract investments and earn foreign currency is tourism. The Vision 2030 initiative had identified three resort cities where tourists were expected to flock.

In Australia, Gold Coast is Pacific countries' best known resort city. Most of the investments in this city, including hotels and recreational facilities, are from foreign countries, particularly the Middle East.

During winter in Australia, one can easily mistake the city for a Middle Eastern country. The beaches on the Pacific Ocean are the main attraction.

Kenya therefore needs to improve on its capacity to attract more visitors. All that this needs is a good plan and active international marketing.

Unfortunately, the Kenya Tourism Board has limited its outreach and failed to help the Government to develop a modern tourism master plan where Kenya can further strengthen its position in the global market.

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To attract more tourists to Kenya is not a complex matter. All that is needed is an improved marketing strategy and incentives for visitors.

While travelling in Europe and other countries, I rarely see a travel agent marketing Kenya. South Africa and even Tanzania are doing better.

Mr Guleid is the executive director of the Frontier Counties Development Council

KenyaBlue EconomyWorld BankVision 2030