The Blue Economy is an emerging area in Africa which holds immense value and opportunities for economic growth and sustainable development.
The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected all economies across Africa due to the necessary but disruptive measures taken to slow its spread. Key areas of the Blue Economy in most African countries—namely fisheries, tourism and marine transportation—have suffered due to disruptions in the Blue Economy value chain.
Fisheries and Seafood Production
The richest fishing grounds in Africa are found along the Atlantic coast of West Africa and the Indian Ocean at the coast of East Africa. The key activities in the fisheries supply chain are fishing, aquaculture, processing, transport and marketing. Each of these activities has been disrupted by the measures taken to curb COVID-19. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, there is evidence of reduced fishing efforts in parts of Africa because of the impact the virus has had on the value chain. The virus has led to the decrease of consumer demand, closure of retail business and disrupted trade routes for both fishery inputs such as bait and gear as well as market access for fish sellers.
Coastal communities are the most affected because they rely on fishing. For instance, decreased demand for fish from restaurants and hotels and lack of cold chain storage infrastructure made boat owners in Kenya reluctant to fuel fishing boats to catch fish that will not be consumed immediately. Additionally, measures to control the risk of infection in fish landing sites and markets has further decreased the quantity of fish that processers and sellers can access. This has been reported in Ivory Coast, where the representative of the women fishing processors stated if the artisanal fishers and women processors are not aided the whole fish sector will decline. Thus, fishing activities have declined along the coast leading to decreased income in fishing communities.
Coastal and Maritime Tourism
Coastal and maritime tourism is the largest sector within the Blue Economy. It is an important source of employment, investment and income for coastal and island states in Africa. However, due to the pandemic, a lot of travel bans have been implemented together with the closure of national borders. This has impacted coastal tourism negatively as would-be tourists are unable to travel and hospitality services have been shut down. For example, before the pandemic, Kenya was keen to grow its cruise industry sector to enhance the sustainable exploitation of the blue economy. Its KES 1.3 billion cruise ship terminal at the Port of Mombasa was however rendered dormant by the pandemic, putting these plans on hold. Similarly, Seychelles banned all cruise ships tourism through the end of 2021 as a preventive measure. This is a great loss to Seychelles because tourism is the second-largest industry after fishing and it is a popular tourist destination.
The maritime fleet in Africa employs nearly 50,000 merchant vessels and 1.2 million seafarers. Each month, 100,000 of these workers would disembark in their home countries at the end of their tours of duty to reconnect with their families and bring wages home. The pandemic however made this challenging as many ports became reluctant to allow seafarers to disembark given the high risk of infection on ships.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused traffic slowdown due to decreased shipping requests and an increase in cancellations, blank sailings and port closures. The figure below shows African ports with restrictions in place as of April 2020.
Although maritime transportation has significantly been affected by the pandemic, it plays a vital role in the global economy which has pushed countries to make cautious accommodations. For instance, despite banning docking vessels in Nigeria, the President Buhari issued a directive allowing cargo vessels which have been at sea for more than 14 days and vessels transporting oil and gas to dock.
An Opportunity for Sustainable Growth
Moving into the new year, it is important that Africa balances public health with conscientious measures to continue growing the continent’s blue economy despite the pandemic. The slowdowns that COVID-19 has caused have had the benefit of improved marine environmental health as there has been less pollution and harvesting that has allowed and sea life to thrive. This can be looked at as an opportunity for policy and decision makers to redesign their strategies for the future sustainability of the blue economy.
One way to achieve this balance is to promote the increased use of digital technology to secure coastal value chains. A myriad of opportunities exist here such as expanding machine learning-powered interpretation of satellite data to monitor fishing stocks, using surveillance drones to monitor and curtail illegal fishing activities in regions where COVID-19 has reduced conventional marine patrols, and connecting local fishers and processors to consumers other than local restaurants and markets which are either closed or experiencing lowered demand. Enhanced collaboration between states, public and private sectors, civil societies and local communities will be instrumental to these tasks.