On the heels of the 2019 Jumuiya Agribusiness and Blue Economy Investment Conference (JABEIC) which took place on the 10th and 11th of December in Malindi, Kenya, there is quite a bit to reflect on as regards Sera Afrika’s interest in the development of the Blue Economy in Kenya and around Africa.

JABEIC 2019 brought together over 700 investors, government officials, civil society and private sector actors to outline the priorities, objectives and opportunities for collaboration and growth. The forum looked into new mechanisms, from innovation to business models, that can build a sustainable Blue Economy ecosystem. A first for JABEIC was the inclusion of the BlueHack—an innovation challenge around Blue Economy themes—to bring together ideas, innovations and methods proposed by teams of Kenyan coastal youth on solutions that we could bring to bear.

One such innovation, proposed by the AquaBlue team, demonstrates the entrepreneurial mindsets and forward-thinking communities that already exist but are yet to be tapped into. Out of respect of the team’s intellectual property, we will not disclose the intricacies of their solution, but we are excited to share the promise that it holds for the Blue Economy. Their aquaculture logistics solution is an ambitious concept that weaves together various actors in the aquaculture value chain. Herein lies the truly exciting aspect of their idea—ecosystems that leverage information technology to not only boost production but also to facilitate the inclusive economic empowerment of different kinds of workers.

Entering into an ‘Investment Conference’, we fully understand investments do not come without a proper understanding of the return on that investment—both in terms of social impact and economic viability. In preparation for the conference, Sera Afrika took part in a pilot focusing on understanding the fisheries sector in the northern coast of Kenya around Lamu. Kenya’s fisheries sector, which accounted for 0.5% of the national GDP in 2017, is vastly underdeveloped, uses little to no technology for enablement. Yet, it employs over 2 million Kenyans (both directly and indirectly) and provides food for millions more. We saw an opportunity for growth this sector that can move Kenyans out of unemployment and food insecurity. Through our pilot, we gained insight on the steps we should take to achieve this impact come 2020.

The Lamu Fisheries Pilot

Fishing at the coast is a perennial and dynamic industry that rich in cultural heritage. It has been a staple source of income and food for communities at the coast, with the ancient town of Lamu providing a prototypical example of this heritage. However, low productivity in coastal fishing has trapped participants in this dangerous occupation in a cycle of poverty which must be broken.

Today, little data exists that can shed light on the actions, activities, and value of the fisheries sector. Sera Afrika recognises the need to utilise data in the creation of viable and efficient solutions in the blue market. We partnered with Lamu County and the Department of Fisheries to spear-head the Fisheries Pilot project in Lamu. Out of it, Sera has come to see the following as priority areas for fisheries impact:

  • Aquaculture sustainability:
    • This is in line with SDG 14 (Life below water), which is concerned with the management of the hydrological ecosystems as a vital resource essential for humanity as a whole. Sustainable aquaculture entails an approach that balances productivity with conservation to unlock value for current and future generations.
  • Cold storage and processing:
    • This is concerned with improving preservation to widen market access for aquaculture produce as a means to address food security challenges in the country.
  • Markets and direct access to buyers:
    • Improving the fisheries market is vital to the consumption end of the fisheries value chain, with direct access to buyers meaning greater revenue prospects for a wider set of participants. Strategic disintermediation is necessary to promote transparency and prevent a disproportionate share of the profits of the fisheries value chain from being hoarded by only the handful that has the capital to monopolise the market.

In order to alleviate poverty and improve livelihoods at the coast, we aim to optimise the fisheries value chain, create sustainable income for fishermen and the ecosystem involved, and reduce inefficiencies stemming from the lack of information and data. This can be achieved by a myriad of methods, one of which Sera Afrika tested during our Lamu pilot. The simplified process of the pilot’s operation is illustrated below in a series of screenshots from a mobile application that was utilised in the pilot.

This sample interface allows fishermen to make entries about their fishing expeditions. It not only helps them keep accounts on their productivity but also provides data on fishing activity that can help manage the sector. It can inform the actions of market actors who need to know which areas provide bountiful supply as well as conservation efforts where indications of overfishing arise. These data analytics are illustrated below.

From this very basic pilot, we can visualise where fishermen are going, what they catch, and how we can coordinate such expeditions to achieve sustainable aquaculture. Already, we can see trends that indicate strategic placements for cold storage facilities that serve fisherman out at sea, we can deduce areas that may be overfished, and we can keep accurate stock of product being caught to find the best buyers at the best rate.

The Jumuiya Innovation Lab

As a follow up to JABEIC 2019, Sera Afrika in partnership with the Jumuiya ya Kaunti za Pwani, iGov Africa, Generation Kenya, Swahilipot Hub and allied with EU development priorities through the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation will introduce the Jumuiya Innovation Lab in 2020. The Lab is designed to kickstart the lifecycle of innovations that multiply impact and unlock untapped value in the coastal blue economy. This involves partnering with innovative youth such as the members of the AquaBlue team to develop sustainable grassroots solutions, new business models for local issues that produce high-quality data for assessment and future interventions.

The opportunity ahead when looking at the collaboration across sectors and actors will be vast:

  • Collection and Evaluation of data on a large scale that will be used to detect inadequacies and inefficiencies. The patterns generated from analysis of available data will be used in improving logistics of fishing, reducing the time and fuel used in moving from production to market. This makes the production price of fish affordable, improves the quality and freshness of fish, and enables on-demand, transparent fish to market supply and demand.
  • Implemention and Advice in sustainable solutions based on the patterns that are seen in the data that is collected.
Blue Economy panel at JABEIC 2019

At the JABEIC conference, we communicated the success of the Lamu Fisheries Pilot and contextualised it as an example of a data and information system that can drive positive impact for millions of Kenyans. Whatever form it takes, data can to inform cost-saving and efficiency improvements, to tell the real stories on the ground, to identify new connections and opportunities, and to allow a deeper understanding of the past and present that can orient us towards a better future.

In the blue economy, as a driver of economic growth and development, data is an infrastructural tool that could be used in several ways to produce different products and services. According to the OECD, data has a number of value-creation mechanisms. It generates information that facilitates complex decision-making essential to the efficient management of natural phenomena, social systems or institutional processes.

For example, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization, the estimated viable productivity of Kenya’s marine fishery is between 150,000 and 300,000 metric tons, while the actual level of production is only around 9,000 metric tons per year. The optimum use of these resources is hampered by infrastructural constraints, insufficient fishing gear and supplies, and lack of direct access to the markets. The lack of adequate data around the actions, activities and the value of the sector creates a lacuna of knowledge on how to make effective interventions. Therefore, the solutions and developments within the sector are neither technologically driven nor sustainable. 

Guiding the collection and processing of high-quality data to derive insights is a promising approach to correctly identify gaps in the blue economy and indicate what technological interventions will provide sustainable and viable solutions. This has been Sera Afrika’s experience at the coast these past few weeks. Looking towards 2020, we are confident that technological innovation is the path we will take into the future. With the Jumuiya Innovation Labs, we can expect more youth-led grassroots innovations that will increase the availability and use of data to drive Kenyan and African development towards a prosperous and sustainable future.