‘Blue Economy’ Conference Underscores Role Of Fish In Nutrition, Taming Of Ocean Pollution

NAIROBI, Kenya — It was the first ever global conference focusing on the ‘blue economy’. The three-day Sustainable Blue Economy Conference was held in Nairobi, Kenya and included a strong focus on environment and health. The East African nation co-hosted the event alongside Canada and Japan.

Japheth Ntiba, Kenya’s principal secretary to Fisheries and Aquaculture, addresses the event

The Sustainable Blue Economy Conference, whose overarching theme was ocean economy and the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, was held on 26-27 November and attracted more than 18,000 delegates from 170 countries, according to organisers.

Participants explored ways of harnessing the potential of water bodies to improve lives of people, particularly in developing countries and especially women, youth and indigenous communities.

The discussions centred on ocean economic opportunities and sustainability with recognition that ocean economy is essential to the future well-being and prosperity of mankind as a source of food, energy, health, tourism, transport and jobs.

Consequently, participants looked into ways of harnessing the potential of the blue economy to create jobs, tackle poverty and hunger. Discussions also focused on the link between economic development and healthy waters.

Concerns about pollution of water bodies from tonnes of plastics and other wastes dumped into water bodies caught significant attention.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, speaking on the first day of the conference, decried the challenge of waste management and plastic pollution that is compromising the health of the people and affecting fish stocks that are a key source of food for millions around the globe.

Participants were in agreement that healthy oceans and other water bodies are vital for human survival, not just presently but also for future generations.

Jonathan Wilkinson, Canadian minister of fisheries and oceans, cited large-scale plastics pollution in oceans as one of the key challenges oceans face, alongside climate change, biodiversity loss, and sustainability of fisheries amid a growing population.

He said that during Canada’s presidency of the G7 over the past year, they focused on issues related to ocean sustainability, in particular addressing marine plastic pollution through social and technological innovations.

Studies on pollution of water bodies indicate that plastics ingested by sea animals and fish are entering the food chain and humans are consuming contaminated fish and mammals thus endangering their health.

Fish, be it marine or aquatic, is a vital source for human nutrition and health. Speaking during a session dubbed: Ending Hunger, Securing Food Supplies and Promoting Good Health and Sustainable Fisheries, Japheth Ntiba, Kenya’s principal secretary for fisheries and aquaculture, underscored the role of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture to fight hunger and secure food supplies to promote good health.

According to Ntiba, harnessing of blue economy opportunities can aid in addressing food and nutrition security. “Although fish is a key source of protein and amino acids, its consumption is low in Kenya,” he said. The country has traditionally depended on rainfed agriculture with climate change negatively affecting yields leading to food deficits, hence the need for viable alternatives, he said.

Ntiba said that in 2009, per capita fish consumption in Kenya was 1.5 kilogrammes per person per year, but a campaign dubbed ‘eat more fish’ has led to increasing to 4.6 kilogrammes per person per year.

“Our target is to increase consumption to 10 kilogrammes per person per year,” he said, adding that Kenya is keen on increasing aquaculture potential in the Indian Ocean and Lake Turkana.

Indeed, addressing the global forum for governors and mayors, which was held on the sidelines of Sustainable Blue Economy Conference, President Kenyatta said the biggest question facing humanity is how to feed the nine billion people the world is projected to have in 2050.

“The easiest way of facing the challenge is to increase the resilience of communities as well as engaging in protection of the environment,” he advised.

Ntiba explained that there is need to diversify food sources by enacting policies and using technologies that aid in diversification through focusing on marine and aquatic sources as well expanding aquaculture.

“Nutrition studies should also be introduced in schools as a compulsory subject so that many young people are equipped on use of available food sources for nutrition security – for example efficient preparation of fish and other food sources to feed the population,” he said.

In 2009, Kenya produced 2000 metric tonnes of fish through aquaculture and by 2013 the figure grew to 6500. However, Ntiba lamented that fishing activities are artisanal and in the case of the Indian Ocean, the country has been lacking capacity to fish in its exclusive economic zone.

The scenario had seen foreigners taking advantage of its waters until recently when a Coast Guard was created to police the zone.

The country is working with partners to boost fish farming. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Ntiba said, is supporting Kenya with some 14 billion Kenya shillings (140 million USD) to boost aquaculture in 15 counties.

Pajkuta Khemakorn, fishery biologist, Thailand Department of Fisheries, said the blue economy has a role in improving food security and ending hunger. “Food and nutrition are a fundamental aspect of the blue economy,” she said.

Catherine Blewett, Canada’s deputy minister for fisheries and oceans, said as the world’s population grows, the challenge of ensuring food gets complex. She thus noted that addressing food securty requires collaboration across sectors. “International support that involves governments and other organisation is required to increase food security,” she said.

Participants lamented the domination of the blue economy by men. According to Blewett, access to resources by women can aid in addressing food security and enhance their productivity in the blue economy. “Ending hunger and protecting fish stocks is an international concern. Women and girls should be involved in governance, trade and conservation of fishery resources,” she said.

Blewett said Canada is particularly concerned with attainment of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on ending hunger. “Women and girls are particularly affected by malnutrition due to cultural and other forms of marginalisation yet are part of the solution,” she said.

Fish and other aquaculture products are key sources of proteins and its global demand is on the rise, noted Blewett. “Due to over-exploitation of natural stocks, responsible fishery practices and ecosystem protection is required,” she said.

She reiterated that water bodies are threatened by agriculture and industrial activities making fish and water unsafe for consumption. “Adaptation is crucial for alleviating the problem through deploying and using technologies that reduce polution of water bodies,” she said.

Her views were echoed by Ntiba, who said human activities due to high population growth are creating myriad problems for water bodies. Cleaner agriculture technologies and reduced soil erosion through planting of trees is needed, he said.

“There is need to explore the nexus between green and blue economies, enhance the role of women and girls and boost consumption of fish,” Blewett said.

Concerning the way forward, Pajkuta said for developing nations to develop the blue economy further and conserve the resource, finances and capacity building are needed.

Besides, said Blewett, future development of the blue economy is hinged on partnerships among states and organisations.

“We need everybody to bring on board knowledge, technologies, finances, polices,” she said. “Support at transnational level will help in sustainable use of blue economy resources for the future generations.”

Ntiba meanwhile said huge participation in the conference indicates that the world is getting concerned with blue resources use. “The political will and emerging knowledge will lead to better fisheries management for nutrition purposes,” he said.

The conference ended with resolutions [pdf] to guide nations on how to harness, protect, sustain and manage its marine resources.


Image Credits: Justus Wanzala.

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