The Untapped Potential of the Blue Economy: Youth Employment and Intra-Africa Trade By James Akhungu

Africa’s population is projected to hit 2.5 billion by the year 2050 according to United Nations Medium Scenario projections The bulwark of this population is poised to be the youth with an estimated 830 million by 2050. While the coinciding increase  in  Africa’s youth bulge presents an opportunity for increased labour force,  unemployment has been an impediment to economic growth and currently stands at 7.2%, against the global average of 13%. unemployment rates remain relatively lowThis article argues that the Blue Economy in Africa has the potential to increase intra-Africa trade and create meaningful employment for the youth.

As a strategic response to address the youth unemployment challenge, the recent Youth and Blue Economy Conference held at the United Nations, Nairobi on 23 November 2018 focused on how to create youth employment in East, Central and Southern Africa. The conference was facilitated by Rapheal Obonyo, a re-known Policy Analyst and Pan-African youth advocate. It highlighted the untapped potential of the Blue Economy in Africa. Blue Economy herein is the sustainable use of ocean, seas, lakes and rivers for improved likelihoods, economic growth and jobs whilst preserving the ecosystem.

Landlocked countries in Africa
Landlocked countries in Africa

Out of the 54 countries in Africa, only 16 countries (above) are landlocked.. The geographical demarcations in Africa paves way to utilize resources from the Blue Economy. Below are various measures that can be taken to ensure the Blue Economy in Africa can create employment opportunities for the youth in Africa.

First, Africa’s governments should create climate for technological innovation and efficiency in the Blue Economy starting from fishery, marine transport, aquaculture tourism, and waste management. Aquaculture as an emerging frontier in Blue Economy has untapped potential. A leaf can be borrowed from SalMar, a firm in Norway which has set up large cage farming at the sea with focus in large scale Salmon farming. Another technological innovation is the Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS) which has been adopted in most developed countries; Atlantic Sapphire in USA, Nordic Aquafarm in UK and Aquabounty technologies in Canada. Africa countries with access to coastal sea lines and oceans could also invest more in Vessel monitoring system (VMS) to provide authorities with real time data movement of various fishing vessels. The impact of VMS is geared towards combating Illegal, Unreported and Irregular (IUU) fishing as per the International Maritime Organization rules and procedures. The adoption of technological innovation and efficiencies, as adopted in other parts of the world, comes in handy for creating job opportunities and the youth should be involved to catapult trade in the Blue Economy.

Second, there is need to invest more in research and development (R&D) in the Blue Economy and how that can create employment opportunities. For instance, Asia, which accounts up to more than 70% of export in fish and sea foods has greatly invested in R&D. The Genetic Improvement of Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) which has focus in genetical coding in sex and growth determination whilst reducing disease susceptibility has been in practice in Asia to improve output of both Carp and Tilapia fish species for the last two decades. African countries could emulate the Biotechnology related aspects in Blue Economy with the aim of increasing productivity and enhancing ecological sustainability. Indulgence of Africa’s youth in biotechnology will leapfrog the Blue Economy thematic areas of; aquaculture, fish capturing, tourism and waste management whilst increasing trade opportunities which will ultimately create employment.

Third, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement and Regional Economic Communities (RECs) should have an approach of tackling tariff and Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) in relation to fish and sea foods products. This will reduce the overall cost of fish and sea foods whilst promoting Intra-Africa trade, and ultimately create employment. The tariff barriers imposed on developed countries is paltry above 30% whilst for the developing countries is above 50% which disadvantages most of the countries in Africa in accessing not only the Continents market but also the overseas market. The RECs and AfCFTA should champion for the best interests of Africa’s market in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Food Agricultural Organization (FAO). Championing for the reduction in tariffs will lead to an increase in the net export value of fish and fish products whilst creating youth employment.

Fourth, African countries should gear towards mechanization and infrastructure development with focus on fish and fish products. A good case in point is Nigeria, one of the largest world consumers of fish and fish products with over 1.5 million tonnes consumed annually has embarked on mechanization of fish and feed production and also post-harvest to reduce her dependency on imported fish. Mechanization has more impact on the small-scale holders in sub-Saharan Africa, accounting up to 70% and  includes the youth thus increasing their participation in Blue Economy activities. To encourage mechanization, Africa’s Government could offer subsidies to machines used by small-scale holders involved in Blue Economy like: pelleting machines, water pump generators, pH meter machines, electrical coolers and refrigerators, dryers and many more. Through mechanization, more youth could be lured to indulge in the Blue Economy.

Overall, realizing the untapped opportunities in the Blue Economy, as emphasized in this article, come with the full participation of the youth. African countries could leverage on the AfCFTA agreement to use Blue Economy to catapult its Intra-Africa trade, which has the potential to create employment opportunities for the youth. Harnessing Blue Economy is an important precursor and stepping stone not only to Intra-Africa trade but also to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)14.



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