Sh13.5b budget for blue economy, nothing for broke fishermen

Fishermen cast their net to try their luck at the waters of the Indian Ocean along Mama Ngina Waterfront in Mombasa County on May 18, 2021. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

Despite the World Bank, European Union and other development partners pumping over Sh13.5 billion in the blue economy, three years later, local fishermen are yet to reap dividends.

Mohamed Omar, the chair of the Association of Kenyan Fishermen says the money has been channeled towards holding conferences in five-star hotels and research that is irrelevant to the fisherman.

"These meetings and conferences should be held at the Beach Management Units where the fishermen are," Omar said

According to reports, Kenya Marine Social Fisheries Economy Development (KEMSFED) received Sh10 billion while the Italian Agency for Development Corporation gave Sh3.5 billion to be managed by International Centre for Advanced Agronomical Mediterranean Studies of Bari in partnership with Jumuiya ya Kaunti za Pwani (JPK).

Bamburi BMU chair Musa Ndenge said that it is ironic to tell local fishermen to write proposals for their business plan in order to get funding, yet most are illiterate.

"The World Bank and other development partners have sponsored the blue economy with huge sums of money, however, the procedures used to award the fisherman the funds are unrealistic. How can you tell a fisherman to write a business proposal yet the majority are illiterate? It means you have no intentions to empower them," said Ndenge.

He added that the government should engage the fisherman in each BMUs to understand their needs and source effective equipment and vessels.

He also says the government should exempt them from paying duty on fishing equipment to make the same cheaply available.

Charles Nyale, the Kilifi BMU chair said there have been delays in disbursing the funds and the fishermen are in the dark. "The BMUs were supposed to be involved in the empowerment projects and the government should have disbursed the funds to the BMUs, but we are still waiting," Nyale said.

Governor Fatma Achani of Kwale said there is a lot of secrecy by the various parastatals based in Nairobi dealing with the blue economy who claim to work towards empowering the local fishermen and the communities.

"We request that when these organisations do their work, they involve the locals and the leadership because there has been a lot of secrecy in their dealings. I know there are many organisations and development partners who are funding the blue economy but the procedures being followed don't benefit local fishermen. The organisations should come down and involve the locals and leaders," said Achani.

She said in Kwale, women are being taken by organisations to workshops to be trained about sea weed, but to date, they lack a market for the sea weed and remain poor.

"But when they are seen on TV, people write reports that women of Kibuyuni have a market for sea weed, yet there is no market. We want when they publish our women in their magazines, we need to see where the end product goes and how they have benefited," Achani said.

From the fourth Jumuiya Agribusiness Economic Investment Conference held in Tana River County, governors from the Coast asked the national government to devolve billions of shillings injected into the blue economy project for them to prioritise key projects.

They also want to control the money released by various partners towards the blue economy.

However, JPK chief executive Emmanuel Nzai says the Go Blue economy is a European-funded project that is under the implementation of the Italian Development Corporation and that neither the county governments nor JKP receive the monies directly.

"The funds move from EU to the Italian Development Corporation. The JPK Secretariat's job is only to coordinate while the county governments are charged with bringing in the fisheries and enabling the projects," Nzai said.

He added that part of the Sh3.5 billion that was funded by EU has already been used to conduct vocational training sessions with over 3000 benefiting.

"There are few training sessions that happened. So, much of the money has been spent on the Go Blue Vocational training. Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) has been holding training sessions for the youth at the Kisauni polytechnic, Gede, Kakuyuni Lamu and Diani. They are trained and connected to the private sector for jobs," Nzai said.

He added that so far, it has been about engagement and capacity-building to get the fishermen ready for the Go Blue scheme.

Nzai disclosed that 25 boats have been tendered for and are scheduled for delivery in June 2023 and will benefit 300 fishermen from nine BMUs.

"As a regional development agency, our aim is to change their lives from being fishermen to entrepreneurs and improve their fishing tactics to be able to increase their catch using the right gear," Nzai said, adding that JKP has been doing capacity-building in nine BMUs in Kilifi, Lamu and Kwale out of the 96 BMUs.

He said the Go Blue project also focuses on aquaculture and mariculture also undertaken by Italy and it involves production on fingerlings and building more ponds.

He says the Italian government has also focused on the cassava value chain in Kilifi by establishing a processing plant.

KEMSFED has also undertaken projects for capacity-building mariculture farmers in finfish and shellfish production in Kibokoni, Mtongani and Ihaleni to stock their ponds.

The project has mobilised finfish and shellfish farmers in Kilifi to collect prawns and milkfish seeds to stock their ponds.

KEMSFED has also issued scholarships worth over Sh6 million to 150 beneficiaries from five counties over the past year.

Salim Mvurya, the Cabinet Secretary for fisheries says all organisations under the blue economy should henceforth identify what they do in the community and work with the county governments and fishermen to ensure that the community benefits.

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