Saturday, December 4, 2021

Southern Africa primed for blue economy development: UNECA Report reveals

The blue economy concept entails the sustainable use of marine and aquatic resources for human well-being and economic development, while preserving the marine environment and thus providing a potential route for Africa’s development.

As an economic sector, the blue economy is diverse and includes aquatic spaces, encompassing lakes, rivers and underground waters, in addition to oceans, seas and their adjoining coasts.

Thus, the opportunities provided by the blue economy are equally vast and include not only waterway activities, but also related activities such as providing qualified human resources, land connectivity to the markets, manufacturing of equipment and spares, and value addition to the blue economy products.

In 2020, The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) undertook a research study that guided the African Union (AU) into establishing frameworks and plans to support the sustainable exploitation of the blue economy as an economic resource.

The study, titled “Blue Economy, Inclusive Industrialization and Economic Development in Southern Africa” acknowledged that “while country-level domestication of the blue economy strategies has been slow, some Southern African countries have already established blue economy frameworks to support the development of this resource”.

According to the research study, the experiences from Mauritius, Seychelles, South Africa and Madagascar are instructive in terms of how blue economy resources can be harnessed and be part of the national development strategy.

The study underscored that “the blue economy resources is not only for the benefit of coastal and island countries, but also for landlocked countries. Blue economy activities are not confined to the waters only. They also encompass activities emanating from collaboration among coastal, island and inland countries. Such collaboration is essential for derivation of the benefits of regional economic value chains from the blue economy”.

The study further established that inclusive participation in the blue economy activities can accelerate industrialization and socioeconomic development. Active participation of the private sector – which includes micro, small, medium and large enterprises as well as vulnerable groups, especially women and youth – can complement government efforts to develop the sector.

The public sector contributes in investment, production, conception and implementation of new ideas and innovations, project financing and, consequently, the creation of jobs. Governments provide a conducive environment through policies, legal and regulatory frameworks and incentives.

The research study further found the imperative for the promotion of the blue economy as a transformative economic sector and alignment of regional strategies and plans with national development goals, which include industrialization, poverty eradication and sustainable development frameworks.

Mainstreaming blue economy strategies into national development plans will facilitate prioritization of ocean-based economic activities and focused implementation as already proven in the economies of Seychelles, South Africa and Mauritius as trendsetters.

It is also reckoned by the research study that coordination is needed for the management of risks, challenges and constraints in the development of a blue economy. Climate change and other environmental concerns, safety and security of maritime business, shortage of funds to finance viable projects and skilled human resource scarcity are among challenges that can be managed through dedicated, implementable, short-term and long-term plans.

Where does Botswana fit in this blue economy development matrix and how does the country stand to benefit? The answer is found in the study preamble which stipulates that Southern Africa is abundantly endowed with both aquatic and marine resources that include: the Indian and Atlantic Oceans; the wetlands of Botswana and Namibia; the Zambezi, Limpopo and Usutu Rivers and their tributaries; and the lakes, such as Lake Nyasa; and the underground waters.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reported in 2018 that in the area of global trade, more than 80 percent of the commercial transport of goods is through oceans, while the seabed is the source of 32 percent of the present global hydrocarbons supply.

It is reckoned that oceans are singularly the most important vehicle of the blue economy resource endowments, and thus can anchor industrialization and development. The premise of the blue economy recognizes the importance of the ocean, seas and inland waters as indispensable vehicles for sustainable economic development.

“The blue economy thus presents an integrated vision for creating wealth from the ocean within the limits of natural and economic systems. In the African context, this translates into the combined use of the seas, oceans, wetlands and inland waters (lakes, rivers and underground water) as essential economic resource capable of complementing traditional resources in the eradication of poverty and in the enhancement of sustainable economic development”, states the research report in acknowledgement of the 2012 AU position.

The report also holds that it is incontestable that ocean and inland water resources and activities are central to industrialization and economic development. In 2016, the OECD reported that ocean-based and related industries provide jobs for over 31 million people worldwide.

“Therefore, unlocking the full potential of the blue economy and its related activities in Southern Africa will boost socioeconomic development, create jobs and contribute to poverty alleviation. Job and employment opportunities are essential for sustainability, intraregional cooperation and social integration. Thus, blue jobs are important and blue careers need to be nurtured to help address the high levels of unemployment in the region”, the research study submits.

It is further recognized that the AU in its Agenda 2063 also envisages the blue economy as a major contributor to continental transformation and growth. The recognition of the importance of oceans at continental level provides a framework for regional strategies underpinned by harmonized national policies.

Inclusivity in industrialization, and sustainable development as targets within the concept of the blue economy, are about equity in access to, “development and sharing of benefits of blue economy resources among all states in the region, regardless of proximity to an ocean or a sea, or devoid of significant inland water body or source”.

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) also pronounced in 2018 that “the blue economy is thus a shared opportunity and responsibility. Industry being the most dynamic driver of prosperity, nations should work together in a collective manner in the industrialization drive and in exploiting the blue economy resources. In Africa, commitment to inclusive industrialization means “a renewed fight against poverty, unemployment and inequality”.

In this regard, all countries in Southern Africa have the potential to contribute through the blue economy sector development for regional sustainable growth and improved well-being of citizens.

As a tool for accelerated economic transformation and industrialization in Southern Africa, the blue economy entails the efficient and effective use of the seas, oceans and inland water bodies as resources for improving human livelihoods and fostering economic development.

With industrialization being inevitable in the process of promoting economic development, there arises the need to study how the blue economy can enhance the economic development in the Southern African region.

According to the research study, at the regional level, blue economy strategies and benefits should be shared among costal and landlocked countries for optimal benefits from the economic value chains.

Improved livelihood at national and regional levels, job creation, improved infrastructure and equal rights to economic resources are among sustainable development features that should be aspired to through the exploitation of the blue economy resources and its direct and indirect activities.

Blue economy activities contribute towards the creation of employment and boost gross domestic product (GDP). Blue economy industries are estimated to contribute around 13 million full-time jobs, which account for approximately 1.5 percent of the global workforce actively employed.

The annual economic value generated by the oceans is estimated at US$2.5 trillion and there is, likewise, potential for accelerated growth, poverty reduction and sustainable development if the region focuses on and develops blue economy industries.  

The research study also acknowledges that industrialization and economic development are a comparative phenomenon that is dynamic and dependent on what happens in other countries and regions of the world.

“The slower the pace in adopting the blue economy philosophy, the greater the gap in development. Hesitancy and complacency will continue to place most African countries under the category of low income and underdeveloped – not only because the GDP will remain stagnant, but also because it will continue to be at the tail end.

Southern African maritime transport and logistics services, ports and connecting infrastructures, fisheries and tourism industries must be improved in terms of reliability of products and services, as well as efficiency, to link blue economy activities to national, regional and global value chains, and facilitate industry and trade”, states the research study.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Industrialization Strategy and Roadmap 2015 to 2063 seek to promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization guided by initiatives on the green and blue economies.

On the blue economy, the region specifically endeavours to exploit the enormous potential offered by its ocean resources to catalyze industrialization and economic transformation.

The strategy alludes to the existence of the blue economy opportunities – such as fishing, shipping, recreation, marine security, renewable energy, and oil and mineral exploitation – which could be exploited sustainably.

However, it identifies the challenges to optimal exploitation of the blue economy to include: poor transportation infrastructure between costal and land-linked countries; inadequate capacity to comply with standards; inadequate access to market information; limited skills to support initiatives on the blue economy; inadequate incentives to promote the blue economy initiative; lack of harmonized policy frameworks; limited data on economic potential of the blue economy; and slow progress in the formalization of the MSMEs, which could play a leading role in exploiting blue economy business opportunities.

To address these challenges, the strategy calls for the development of quality infrastructure, improvement in transportation linkages, development of skills, removal of business constraints impacting on MSMEs, provision of incentives for blue economy related business ventures; and for reinforced research and development and innovation to support the blue economy through dedicated Centers of Excellence.

The compilation of data on the blue economy should be a key activity. Furthermore, the strategy calls for mainstreaming in the development of infrastructure required to accelerate industrialization and the development and upgrading of regional ports and maritime corridors, which is crucial in facilitating viable shipping networks as enablers for participation in regional and global value chains.

The strategy recognizes the importance of sustainable exploitation of oceanic resources and the minimization of the negative effects on the environment. To ensure growth of ocean wealth, the strategy calls for coherent planning and the development and implementation of harmonized policies and regulatory frameworks.

As part of the process of facilitating sustainable exploitation of the blue economy resources, a regional blue economy policy and strategy should be developed to guide a harmonized approach to the sector in the region as indicated by interactions with responsible SADC officials revealing that the process is already underway.

It is generally agreed that the concept of the blue economy as an economic resource is an emerging idea that has yet to be well understood. Comprehensive understanding of the concept is key for countries to accord the sector the important consideration it deserves in socioeconomic development planning. Individual countries, singularly and in regional groupings, should dedicate more effort to the understanding of the concept so as to “fully derive benefits from the blue economy”.

Knowledge of the blue economy and its economic benefits should be enhanced, and the information should trickle down to the level of communities living in the coastal areas, deliberately targeting the youth, women and grassroots implementers, both public and private, to have a collective understanding of the concept.

Convergence around a common vision for the blue economy will pave the way towards inclusive sustainable socioeconomic development based on a sustainable marine environment. The use of multidisciplinary experts in maritime and marine related fields is essential for success in achieving blue economy objectives.

The availability of local expertise is important and countries should strive to develop the local human resource base, taking into consideration the advantages of cooperation amongst states to support the growing sector.

The research paper further emphasizes that the “region should collectively invest in human and technical capacity building for blue economy activities through adopting a deliberate strategy to develop careers to satisfy the demands of an evolving sector”.

People are needed to have skills in ship-building and repair, marine manufacturing and construction, seafood processing, marine and coastal tourism, and coastal flood defences.

Equally, emerging sectors – such as marine aquaculture, ocean renewable energy, marine and seabed mining, and marine safety and security – all require more personnel. Education and training institutions have not yet incorporated the requirements of the sector into their training curricula.

According to the research paper, “the region is essentially primed for blue economy-related activities, even in those countries in the forefront of the blue economy due to limitations of science, technology and skills. There is huge skills gap in the sector, due to the paucity of requisite training opportunities”.

As the region is embarking on the blue economy initiatives, there is a need for skilled human resources at all levels. The shortage and, in some cases, “the total absence of skilled manpower to service blue economy industries undermines development”.

The research paper also notes that the blue economy value is built on collaboration among coastal and landlocked/land-linked countries. The collaboration could be in regional waters’ safety and security in; undertaking major projects, including infrastructure development; the management of maritime space, such as the special arrangement between Mauritius and Seychelles; deep sea mining; ocean research; and human capacity building. This approach furthers and facilitates mutual benefits and allows countries to benefit from economies of scale.

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