Towards a SADC blue economy

SANF 18 no 27 – by Joseph Ngwawi
The Southern African Development Community is moving towards a strategy to develop a thriving maritime economy and harness the full potential of sea-based activities in an environmentally sustainable manner.

The SADC Secretariat is preparing a discussion document to be used to develop a regional blue economy strategy, and is also planning to commission a study on opportunities and threats to the SADC Blue Economy Initiative.

The SADC Revised Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (2015-2020) and the Industrialization Strategy and Roadmap (2015-2063) both identify the blue economy as a potential areas for sustainable growth in the region.

The SADC Industrialization Strategy and Roadmap (2015-2063) requires that the Blue Economy Initiative be mainstreamed in developing infrastructure required to accelerate industrialization.

Some Member States such as South Africa, Seychelles and Mauritius have developed blue economy strategies and institutional mechanisms at national level.

Investment in the development and upgrading of regional ports and maritime corridors is regarded as crucial in facilitating viable shipping networks as enablers for participation in regional and global value chains.

SISR also says that ocean resources should be exploited in a sustainable manner to minimize the negative impact on environment; and that sustainable development of the ocean wealth should be supported by coherent planning, policies and regulatory frameworks.

The blue economy conceptualises oceans as “development spaces” where coordinated planning integrates conservation, sustainable use, oil and mineral wealth extraction and marine transport.

The initiative breaks the mould of the “brown” development model where oceans have been perceived as a means of free resource extraction and waste dumping.

The concept recognizes the productivity of healthy ocean ecosystems as a way of safeguarding sustainable ocean-based economies, as well as ensuring that Small Island Developing States and other coastal countries benefit from their marine resources.

Ocean and inland waters such as seas, lakes, rivers and reservoirs provide significant benefits to humanity, including:

  • Food and nutrition security from fisheries and aquaculture;
  • Economic and social development from fisheries and aquaculture, marine and coastal tourism, shipping, mining and energy; and
  • Ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, water filtration, atmospheric and temperature regulation, protection from erosion and extreme weather events.

However, southern Africa has been experiencing a rapid erosion of the asset base of oceans and inland waters due to overfishing, pollution from land-based sources, mangrove deforestation, climate change, and ocean acidification.

As a result, there is need for a paradigm shift in order to realize the full potential of the oceans and inland waters.

This will require that the region embraces a new, responsible and sustainable approach that is more environmentally, socially and economically effective.

This initiative comes at a crucial time when the need for food and resources from the ocean and inland waters is increasing rapidly to meet the needs of the growing population.

The blue economy concept is appropriate for the SADC region since more than half of its 16 Member States are coastal or oceanic countries.

Eight SADC Member States – Angola, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa and the United Republic of Tanzania – are coastal or oceanic states.

SADC is exploring ways to develop the region’s blue economy in order to grow renewable energy options by harnessing sources such as tidal power, ocean currents and ocean thermal energy conversion.

The blue economy development strategy is timely for the SADC region, which has witnessed significant discoveries of large reserves of oil and natural gas in countries such as Mozambique, Namibia and Tanzania in recent years, indicating a huge potential for exploitation of the resource in the region.

The east coast of Africa has emerged as one of the brightest spots in the global energy landscape, with large natural gas finds in Mozambique and Tanzania.

Exploration has taken place in all SADC Member States although the exact amounts of reserves are unknown for most countries.

New offshore natural gas finds along coastal Mozambique are expected to be a “game changer” for the country and the region.

The country has estimated recoverable natural gas reserves of about 100 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas, enough to meet one year’s gas consumption by the United States and other western countries.

Tanzania has 57 tcf proven natural gas reserves from its deep water, offshore region.

The discovery of huge reserves of natural gas has resulted in the formation of the SADC Inter-State Gas Committee. The committee is charged with ensuring the inclusion and promotion of natural gas into the regional energy mix and facilitation of an increase in universal access to energy as well as industrial development in SADC.

In addition to the oil and gas discoveries, there is great potential for exploration of other oceanic resources in other SADC Member States.

For example, Namibia has significant reserves of guano, a highly effective fertiliser made from the excrement of seabirds or bats that contains a high content of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium, three nutrients essential for plant growth.

Exploration of oceanic resources has not been done exhaustively in most SADC Member States and there is a lot more to learn about the undiscovered marine resources.

The blue economy encompasses a range of stakeholders, including traditional and emerging maritime sectors such as fisheries, aquaculture, shipping, offshore oil and gas, bio-prospecting, marine mining as well as the research community, conservationists, policymakers and civil society.

The link between ocean health and human development is explicitly recognised in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the associated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically SDG 14, which requires United Nations Member States to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”.

These trends are also visible in African policy debates. The former chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, once referred to the blue economy as the maritime dimension of the African Renaissance, while Agenda 2063 of the AU envisages the blue economy as a major contributor to continental transformation and growth.

At the centre of this shift is the 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy (2050 AIM Strategy), a comprehensive plan that aims to “foster more wealth creation from Africa’s oceans, seas and inland water ways by developing a thriving maritime economy and realising the full potential of sea-based activities in an environmentally sustainable manner.”

The 2050 AIM Strategy makes it clear that Africa’s approach to the blue economy includes not only its maritime domain but also the continent’s inland water bodies, thereby underscoring the relevance of the blue economy for all African states, including landlocked states.

More recently, the African Charter on Maritime Security, Safety and Development in Africa (also known as the Lomé Charter) was adopted to address key components of the regional blue economy agenda.

The blue economy concept has been debated in various fora and adopted by several institutions such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, United Nations Environment, and the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

It featured prominently during Rio+20, whose outcomes have proven to be a strong catalyst for driving new efforts towards the implementation of previous and new commitments on oceans and inland waters to restore, exploit and conserve aquatic resources.


Southern African News Features offers a reliable source of regional information and analysis on the Southern African Development Community, and is provided as a service to the SADC region. 

This article may be reproduced with credit to the author and publisher.

SANF is produced by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), which has monitored regional developments since 1985.      Email sanf[at]sardc.net     

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