Explore mariculture to leap-frog coastal economy

Thursday, March 18th, 2021 00:00 |
Tourism Cabinet secretary Najib Balala. Photo/KENNA CLAUDE

Kingori Choto

Kenya has a 640-kilometre coastline but her coastal and marine resources remain highly under-utilized.

As a coastal State, Kenya can accelerate food security, job creation, sustainable community livelihoods and economic diversification, by optimising her maritime resources.  

Data from the Kingori Chotoshows that marine resources account for a paltry three per cent percent of fish landings, compared to 95 per cent from inland sources.  

With all bays and inlets included, Kenya’s coastline extends 880 kilometres, greater than the distance from Nairobi to Moyale.

Add the Exclusive Economic Zone spanning 230,000 square kilometres and stretching 200 nautical miles offshore, about half of the country’s total land area.

This is just a pointer to the massive economic potential of this vast natural resource. 

Yet, according to the Kenya Maritime Authority, the annual output of marine fishing stood at 9,000 metric tonnes in 2013, compared to a potential of 350,000 metric tonnes valued at Sh90 billion.

If fully tapped, our maritime resources could easily rival the tourism sector in economic value. 

Maritime resources are crucial to the realisation of Kenya’s Vision 2030 and Blue Economy agenda and could significantly transform the livelihoods of coastal communities.

One promising but neglected area is mariculture – the commercial farming of marine organisms for food and food additives, pharmaceuticals, jewelry and cosmetics. 

It is a special type of aquaculture carried out in a marine environment.  

Mariculture is a fast-growing industry valued at over $63 billion globally as of 2013.

The Global Aquaculture Alliance projects 72 million square kilometres of ocean as being environmentally suitable for marine aquaculture.

Developing the local mariculture industry will certainly unlock enormous economic value.

With the local Blue Economy potential pegged at over Sh400 billion, we are only scratching the surface.

A possible approach is development of mariculture parks. These are akin to industrial parks complete with support infrastructure like fish landing sites, transport, processing and marketing. 

Mariculture parks are a relatively developed concept in the Asia-Pacific region in countries like China, South Korea, Japan, Philippines, Japan and Vietnam. 

This has seen such nations reap enormous benefits like increased food production and fish exports, advanced fisheries research as well as environmental conservation by easing pressure on local marine resources.

 More Kenyans are turning to healthier diets including fish, signifying probable high demand for mariculture products locally.

There is also scope for small-scale marine fish farming and value addition in cosmetic, pharmaceutical and ornament manufacture.

But investors in mariculture need a safe and secure environment with minimal threat from illegal fishing, a menace that reportedly costs the local marine fisheries industry over Sh10 billion annually.

The coastal counties should take the lead in promoting mariculture. They should create the right policy and fiscal environment for marine fisheries to flourish.

National government interventions in collaboration with development partners have set the pace for mariculture to thrive locally.

For instance, the World Bank-funded Sh10 billion Kenya Marine Fisheries Social Economic Project seeks to promote coastal aquaculture in Lamu, Tana River, Kilifi, Mombasa and Kwale counties.

In nutshell, mariculture is capable of leapfrogging the coastal economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism, and providing sustainable livelihoods for local communities. —The writer is a lawyer and policy analyst — [email protected]

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