Kenya is a treasure trove of natural resources complemented by a highly productive and motivated workforce. With this potential, developing initiatives that mitigate extraction and production inefficiencies is a prudent investment with a good likelihood of strong returns in terms of financial reward and the promotion of social development. This is especially true of Kenya’s coastal fisheries sector.

Currently, Kenya’s fisheries sector contributes 0.5% to the nation’s GDP and supports 2.3 million people through income opportunities in fishing, storage, transportation and retail. Inland fishing accounts for about 96% of fish produced in the country with only 4% being caught within Kenya’s considerable Indian Ocean territory. Kenya’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) extends 370 kilometres (200 nautical miles) outward from a 640-kilometre-long coastline and harbours 150,000 metric tonnes of annual marine fish production potential. Marine fishing presents a lucrative opportunity at various stages of the fish production value chain for both outside investors and the 4.2 million residents of Kenya’s coastal areas.

Marine Fisheries Performance 2012-2016. Source: Fisheries Annual Statistics Bulletin 2016

Developing Kenya’s marine fish production has been a longstanding policy goal at both the county and national levels. Overreliance on inland fishing has led to unsustainable overfishing, product homogeneity, and a susceptibility to supply shocks that could be remedied by marine fishing. This has been detrimental to attempts to improve the nation’s food and nutritional security through programmes such as the Eat Fish for a Better Life sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization.

In response, Kenya’s six coastal counties under the umbrella of Jumuiya ya Kaunti za Pwani (JKP) are joined in the “Share Blue” programme which prioritises food and nutrition security and the sustainable development of agriculture and fisheries in the region. Food security is a paramount consideration in this initiative and has many areas of development. These areas include the improvement of marine and deep-sea fishing capacity, better fishing resource management, improved storage and logistics, and streamlined market access. JKP’s commitment to developing Kenya’s marine fisheries sector is complemented by initiatives such as:

The fishing industry is unable to support much-needed attempts to supplement Kenyan diets with nutritious fish without interventions to develop fish production beyond inland and nearshore fishing sites. These interventions would go a long way to transform Kenya’s fisheries sector into an ecologically and financially sustainable ally for improving the health and livelihoods of Kenyans.

How do we Transform Kenya’s Fisheries Sector? One Word: Data

Data, often called “the new oil” or “the new gold” is a high-value asset in the digital age. Modern personal electronic devices and tools such as cloud computing enable human activity to be efficiently ordered according to real-time insights. This has made data invaluable as a tool that massively decreases the cost of certainty in identifying viable opportunities and assessing their performance. A lack of open access to high-quality data in Africa is a major point of concern in light of the continent’s human development objectives.

Sera Afrika recognises the importance of data and not only the need to capture it but also to have policies and processes in place that guide the use and management of data for economic and social growth. We are committed to charting a path for the improvement of African data and its responsible use towards unlocking new opportunities. Hence, we aim to tackle the issues of data inadequacy and technology deficiency while using existing data to promote sustainable solutions in the most efficient manner. Our approach to blue economy solutions is therefore driven by considerations on what data can do to improve organisation and efficiency in Kenya’s fisheries sector.

Sera Afrika is collaborating with local academic and development institutions such as JKP, CIHEAM, the Technical University of Mombasa, and the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation as a proponent for data-driven approaches to social and economic outcomes. Sera Afrika would like to strengthen these partnerships by developing a data-focused pilot programme enabling insight on and accessibility to opportunities in Kenya’s fishing sector. The pilot programme entails the use of a mobile application as the front end of a robust data collection and processing system that generates insights relevant to the production of fish and the management of marine fish resources.

Why are we Fishing for Data?

With initiatives to promote fish production and consumption being launched in other parts of Kenya, Sera Afrika recognises the opportunity to create a data-based model for the improvement of Kenya’s fisheries sector.

We recognise the need to utilise data to create viable and efficient solutions in the blue market and have discovered successes during preliminary explorations of the utility of our application-based data system. Data-driven models and policies have already proven to be advantageous in multiple ways, including:

  • Equipping fishermen and local entrepreneurs with timely and high-quality information services on supply and demand;
  • Identifying opportunities for more efficient resource allocation to reduce the cost of fishing, storage and processing;
  • Faster and easier access to relevant markets;
  • Better decision making along the value chain;
  • Better performance and outcome for different stakeholders in the fish production value chain; and
  • Better documentation system beneficial to both public and private interests in the fisheries sector.

The application will unlock potential along the fisheries value chain from the initial catch through to processing, storage and increasing exports to local and global markets. It will also reveal and streamline opportunities to interrogate and redefine how activities in these stages are conducted. Not only will the application provide vast insight, but it will also empower local Beach Management Unit (BMU) to carry out their fishing resource management role with efficiency and transparency. 

Concerning insights, the app will inform the actions of market actors such as fishermen—who need to know which areas provide bountiful supply—as well as conservation efforts that mitigating overfishing by flagging affected areas. This also creates the potentiality for real-time resource management as the app can prompt fishermen to move away from overfished areas. By identifying and tracking perpetrators of overfishing, it can also add a discipline system that incentivises fishermen to refrain from overfishing.

Furthermore, the application will help track fishing activities and enable the identification of strategic locations for cold storage, processing, connectivity and replenishment facilities that serve fisherman out at sea. This allows fishermen to maximise their offshore time by venturing deeper and for longer without the need to boat to shore to offload their catches.

The pilot application will make it easier for fishermen to get their produce to market through a digital marketplace integrated with participating physical markets. This creates stable supporting roles for transporters and marketeers which could provide income opportunities for local women and persons with disabilities who typically do not go out to sea to fish. The integrated system can also keep accurate stock of catches and purchases as a means to facilitate the most efficient pricing balancing demand and supply.

The power of this data and information system is that it can drive positive impact for millions of Kenyans along the coastal region and beyond. The data gathered is a multiplier driving efficiency improvements by:

  • Minimising the amount of time fishermen spend searching for good fishing spots;
  • Minimising the amount of time fishermen spend transiting to and from the shore to offload their catches;
  • Balancing variable supply and demand patterns to ensure sustainable pricing across different seasons;
  • Vastly decreasing the cost of up-to-date and accurate regulatory oversight; and
  • Vastly decreasing the cost and decentralising the effort of ecological conservation.

These, in turn, open up several doors for further investment oriented along these goals.

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.

Capturing data on the app will complement management functions of the State Department for Fisheries, Aquaculture and the Blue Economy. The official fisheries data collection, processing and analysis are the mandate of the Department as are developing fisheries policies concerning development, management, infrastructure and marketing. The Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute—whose strategic plan is predicated on accurate and up-to-date information—also collects fisheries data for research purposes that would be aided by the application. This information is of relevance to their data collection goals as regulators and data holders in the fisheries sector.

Fishing in the Time of COVID-19

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its associated health, social, and economic impacts are prime examples of why data-based action is a necessity and not a luxury. It has been a stark reminder of the need to safeguard trade value chains by buttressing industries with digital and automation tools that facilitate remote operations. This is the case for both disruptions that take labourers away from their work and those impacting the ordinary operation of supply and demand chains.

The outbreak has caused a decrease in working hours, especially with the imposed curfew, limiting the kind of interpersonal contact that is customary in Kenya’s fishing circles from boats to landing sites to markets. Using the application, fishermen, transporters, marketeers and customers can quickly exchange information without the need to physically interact except for the delivery of fish.

Moreover, there is restricted movement with the three coastal counties of Kilifi, Kwale and Mombasa being particularly affected. This fishing activities as the majority of fishing trips occur during the wee hours of the morning and late at night as well as restricts access to markets. Data tracking the location of viable fishing spots would significantly decrease the amount of time that fishermen need to spend out at sea. This can be achieved by directing them towards the best daytime spots and availing cold storage and transportation so that fishermen out at sea beyond the curfew can avoid having to land until the curfew ends.

Due to border closures and drops in global demand, fish is currently experiencing low demand in the global market. The relative underdevelopment of a marine fish market within Kenya, coupled with new movement restrictions, frustrates the ability of Kenyan fishermen to rely on the local market to carry them through the crisis. COVID-19 has challenged Africa to reconsider its economic dependence on external factors and move instead towards a safe trade model that prioritises independence through internal stability. In this light, the application’s integrated marketplace can help customers access stock remotely especially with the help of delivery services as food supplies are considered essential and are therefore uninterrupted.

Policy Mapping Opportunities

Policies are a fundamental framework for addressing issues in society. Since 2005, Kenya has been testing and implementing policies that assist in the development of the fisheries sector. Kenya has been able to reduce overreliance on Lake Victoria by introducing sustainable fishing methods, growing fisheries capacities in other inland sites, and promoting aquaculture. Moreover, it has increased its total fish production while starting to sustainably explore its marine fisheries. However, to fully utilise its fisheries capability sustainably, there is a need to incorporate data into its policies. Data-driven policy will fully transform Kenya’s fisheries to reach its optimum level best.

Data-driven policy will prove to be a stabilising force in the admittedly start-stop approaches to growing Kenya’s fisheries. Ready insights on which interventions are working and which need to be revaluated will help guide prioritisation and indicate successes early on to keep the momentum going. They will also aid in convincing potential investors of the realisable value currently locked in Kenya’s fisheries sector.

The Way Forward – Rolling out a Fishing for Data Pilot

Today, little data exists to understand the actions, activities and value of the fisheries sector beyond traditional market and industry practices. The little data that exists there is severely underutilised and this perpetuates the problem. Sera Afrika is interested in disrupting this vicious cycle and moving Kenya’s fisheries sector into sustainable profitability in the digital age by piloting the application to fish for data.

The pilot will approximately take three months to build and expand the data collection for the BMUs in 3 locations within Lamu, Kilifi, Mombasa. To ensure its success, the pilot will engage stakeholders at multiple levels from top political echelons and investors to the local entrepreneurs or students that lead the pilot on the ground. The data will be collected by fishermen and boatowners through Android phones that interface with an easily accessible web portal. Additionally, there will be three to four university interns (from partner Universities) allocated to each BMU to guide the research process.

In line with data protection policies, the highest data security and software standards will be used. Also, all the data collected will be shared with the partners to assist all stakeholders in the fisheries sector and the coastal region in general. Insights will be availed for further action and piloting in other areas as well. On the success of this pilot program, we aim to scale it up to operate across all of Kenya then East Africa and eventually Africa.