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Quality training will turn blue economy into cash cow


After many years of policy neglect, the government seems to have realised the important role of the maritime sector, fondly called the blue economy, in turning around the country's economy.

The government has failed to tap into the maritime industry, touted as the next frontier of economic growth, due to inadequate human resource capital.

Kenyan institutions started offering maritime education and training programmes in 2011, but momentum seems not to have gathered pace, leaving the country unable to exploit the huge potential that exists in the ocean.

The government has reopened many training institutions but the biggest challenge has been in getting trainers due to a shortage in the industry. Training abroad has been highly difficult due to the prohibitive costs and lack of knowledge of the opportunities that exist in the maritime sector.

More effort is required to revive training and equip seafarers, among other professionals, with the requisite knowledge and skills for the international job market. Robust measures should be put in place to ensure the availability of academies offering accredited maritime courses. Apart from collaborations with other international institutions, the government should strive to ensure that resources are provided to minimise the identified challenges of human resources and technology.

The recent launch of Kenya Blue Economy Skills Training Programme (KBEST) by Canada indicates that the country is a maritime state. This emerging sector holds untapped potential for generating employment and economic growth - particularly for youth and women - while preserving the health of oceans and water systems for future generations of Kenyans.

Currently, the blue economy contributes a paltry four per cent to Kenya's GDP (Sh186.7 billion), mostly through coastal tourism.

Competitive presence

Implemented by Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan) in collaboration with Kenya's Ministry of Education - primarily through the State Department of Vocational and Technical Training - KBEST focuses on building skills in Kenya's workforce that are needed to establish the country as a competitive presence in the global blue economy.

It will enhance the capacity of Kenyan technical and vocational training (TVET) institutions and agencies to deliver skills training programmes that meet international standards and respond to the needs of the industry, within the context of Kenya's TVET reforms, which President William Ruto's government sees as an important cog in the delivery of the country's development goals.

By emphasising the training of women, youth, and vulnerable populations in fields and subsectors of the blue economy, KBEST serves a strong social economic goal of the current government's manifesto that propelled Ruto's government into power.

Japan offers vital lessons for nascent Kenya's blue economy. The country is surrounded by sea and therefore industrial centres were arranged along the coastlines. Kenya has also planned to have a Special Economic Zone at Dongo Kundu, which has the potential of creating thousands of jobs in the coastal region. The promise by Ruto during his inaugural speech that the country will establish a leather processing factory at the SEZ in Dongo Kundu must be actualized with strong collaboration with the county government of Mombasa.

Kenya has ocean resources spread over an area of 245,000km2, or 42 per cent of its total land area, which makes the country a maritime state if it properly trains a workforce to exploit these resources. In 2018, the then Agriculture Cabinet Secretary, Mwangi Kiunjuri, said Kenya was losing over Sh440 billion annually by failing to fully exploit the blue economy.

Need for reforms

Kenya has low-lying fruits to pick from the blue economy, which is wrongly viewed as a capital-intensive venture. The inter-governmental Standing Committee on Shipping (ISCOS) - a regional shipping agency, returned a harsh verdict of a sector in dire need of reforms., which it described as a regional problem.

The industry, ISCOS found out, lacks qualified training staff and maritime professionals such as maritime lawyers, marine construction personnel, and shipping and logistics personnel. Inadequate and expensive training facilities, tools, and equipment in Maritime Training and Education were also cited as a huge challenge that was derailing the industry's progress.

Funding for the industry is low and collaboration and coordination, which would bring new synergies amongst training institutions in the region, are also lacking, ISCOS notes. The industry suffers from a lack of knowledge about the vast employment opportunities in the maritime industry; the high cost of maritime training and skills development is prohibitive, requiring practical training facilities such as simulators which are too expensive to be acquired by individual institutions.

The region also faces a high cost in developing maritime curricula and lacks harmonized maritime curricula that meet international standards. Moreover, there exists no Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) between neighbouring countries. The lack of definitive continuous professional development and capacity-building opportunities for trainers and lecturers affects the quality of training.

One of the greatest headaches for Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) has been training to replace an ageing workforce as well as equip the industry with emerging trends. Although the maritime industry in Kenya has ballooned over the years, training and education have not grown at a commensurate rate and there is a danger of a future shortage of personnel. Therefore, in order to exploit the ocean economy, which Kenya has identified as critically crucial, increasing the country's human capacity is a prerequisite.

Kenya now needs to harmonise its policy framework to fully exploit the Blue Economy, The Western Indian Ocean has resources worth more than Sh2.2 trillion in annual outputs, with Kenya's share being about 20 per cent of this. The marine fishing sub-sector alone had an annual fish potential of 350,000 metric tonnes worth Sh90 billion in 2013. However, the region only yielded a paltry 9,134 metric tonnes worth Sh2.3 billion.

Mr Raphael Obonyo is a public policy analyst.

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