What is the blue economy?

The term ‘blue economy’ encompasses the broad range of human activities that relate to the oceans, inland waters, and coasts. According to the world bank, it comprises the range of economic sectors and related policies that together determine whether the use of oceanic resources is sustainable. This includes agriculture and aquaculture, the exploitation of natural resources, maritime transport, tourism and recreation, energy and human habitation in coastal areas. The broad spread of the blue economy spectrum is a function of our emerging understanding of the complexity of ‘blue’ ecosystems and how humans interact with them.

As a relatively new concept, the blue economy presents the challenge to learn more about our ecosystem and how human activity contributes or detracts from its stability. By making the most of local resources to empower local populations, the blue economy is also an opportunity to inspire environmentally sensible development in other sectors. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development estimate that the efficient management and sustainable exploitation of the blue economy could contribute up to $3 trillion to the global economy. 71% of the earth’s surface is water, yet most development is concerned with only the parts of the earth that we occupy. Not only have we failed to tap into this enormous reservoir of economic value, but we also have failed in our duty to conserve it.

As we advance society into the next stages of development, we have become better aware of how the wellbeing of people is linked to the health of the earth’s ecosystems. The blue economy encompasses applying this widened awareness to decisions on how we interact with oceans, inland waters, and coasts in our economic endeavours. This includes conservationist efforts such as the protection of blue resources, climate change mitigation. It also includes economic interests such as novel approaches to production, energy generation, market access, tourism, and maritime transport.

Kenya’s dive into the blue economy

Every journey begins with a step. In 2016, the Department of Fisheries and Blue Economy, tasked with steering policy and development on the blue economy, was established in Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture. A dedicated Blue Economy Implementation Committee was established in January 2017 to coordinate and oversee the implementation of blue economy programmes. Then, in November 2018, Jumuiya ya Kaunti za Pwani (JKP) hosted the first Jumuiya Agriculture and Blue Economy Investment Conference (JABEIC) in Nairobi. With this, Kenya placed itself at the forefront of promoting sustainable blue economy development.

JABEIC 2018 was the first-ever global high-level conference on the global sustainable blue economy. It brought together over 16,000 participants from 184 countries with the common goal of stimulating the blue economy as part of the global push towards the goals of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The outcome (captured in the Nairobi Statement of Intent on Advancing a Sustainable Blue Economy) was a commitment to collaboration in designing and deploying action-oriented strategies that place people and the blue economy at the centre of sustainable development.

The European Union acted on the call for collaboration by investing 2.5 billion shillings in JKP’s ‘Go Blue’ blue economy initiative. The investment programmes that advance the preservation and sustainable use of the oceans, inland waters, coasts, and marine resources. Remembering its commitment to collaboration, JKP has partnered with Sera Afrika, Swahilipot Hub, Generation Kenya, and iGovAfrika to augment this year’s Investment Conference with the BlueHack Innovation Challenge. The challenge is aimed at enabling the participation of Kenya’s grassroots innovators in blue economy initiatives. This is the next step in our blue economy journey towards inclusive sustainable development.

The BlueHack Innovation Challenge 2019

The BlueHack Innovation Challenge, scheduled for the 8th and 9th December 2019, is an innovative hackathon challenge that plays an important role in encouraging multisectoral participation in the blue economy dialogue. It entails themed hacks focused on creative solutions to challenges facing the agriculture & aquaculture, tourism, arts & culture economic value chains in the coastal counties. BlueHack aims at inspiring collaboration among Kenya’s innovators and connecting them to investors and development opportunities. This is to empower them to step up and change the story of African development by coming up with practicable solutions to the continent’s challenges.

The challenge fits between the Pwani Innovation Week (PIW), a four-day forum on spreading a culture of innovation in the coastal counties, and the Jumuiya Blue Economy Investment Conference 2019 (JABEIC 2019). BlueHack entails matching the winners of the PIW with other innovators in hybrid teams to produce digital solutions, concept notes, policy papers and arts and culture pieces. These teams will then have the chance to present their ideas to over 700 investors and business leaders at JABEIC 2019. Beyond the conference, winning entries will have the chance for further development with the support of the Jumuiya Lab accelerator.

Inclusivity and the sustainable development agenda

A primary goal of the challenge is seeding the Jumuiya Lab with viable innovative blue economy ideas that can grow into sustainable business models. The Lab is instrumental for ideation on how to orient Go Blue and related blue economy programmes to achieve inclusive, sustainable human development. The desire to have an impact at the grassroots level requires including the grassroots in the innovation process. This entails sourcing ideas and perspectives from the grassroots, reinforcing them with technical support and funding, implementing them to the benefit of the grassroots, and measuring impact by considering the effect on human development at the grassroots. The end goal is to scale up the innovation centre model to leverage grassroots ideation throughout Kenya and, eventually, throughout Africa.

The BlueHack is concerned with the efficient and sustainable use of available resources to secure better sustenance, wealth generation, trade, and development prospects for the local population. A key metric for success is the applicability of solutions to the local demographic and the potential to scale these solutions to serve the wider human race.

Sera’s vision

Sera Afrika, an organisation focusing on shaping Africa’s development through data-driven policy, recognises the importance of the blue economy to successful social and economic development. We understand the complexity of the blue economy value chain and the need to inject efficient governance models in its development. Our involvement in BlueHack and JABEIC 2019 is in the interest of inspiring a focus on policy and governance in developmental ideation and implementation processes.

A key overriding policy driving the BlueHack and JABEIC 2019 is inclusive participation in blue economy development. The complexity of blue economy goals—from the eradication of poverty to the development of trade networks to environmental conservation—requires coordinating a wide variety of stakeholders. It also necessitates meeting modern challenges from a variety of angles. We are keen on promoting multi-partner multi-sectoral participation in decision-making for the future. By blending a variety of innovative ideas from diverse sectors and linking them to a wide range of investors and opportunities, we hope to stimulate productive collaboration in the interest of finding African solutions to Africa’s problems.