ECONOMY 360: World Ocean Day and Nigeria’s Blue Economy

Posted by Timige, On 11 Jun, 2023 | Updated On 11 Jun, 2023 No Comments »


A few years ago, while investigating the underlying causes of the disappearance of certain fish species in the Nigerian Ocean, I was struck by the ripple effect of our neglect of the ocean and the economic potential inherent in the blue economy. While conducting the research, I met fishermen in the Badagry and Makoko areas of Lagos, who all agreed that some fish species were gradually going extinct due to certain human practices militating against their survival, notably land reclamation and our poor management of plastic waste.

A PREMIUM TIMES journalist, Oladeinde Olawoyin. [PHOTO CREDIT: Facebook page of Mr Olawoyin]
A PREMIUM TIMES journalist, Oladeinde Olawoyin.

Too much plastic water has passed under the Nigerian bridge between then and now. Although awareness about plastic waste management seems to have improved, our attitude to the ocean and the blue economy still remains largely poor.

According to the Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nigeria generates some 32 million tonnes of waste annually, among Africa’s highest. The numbers correlate with that of a United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) report. More worrisome is the fact that of the waste generated yearly, 2.5 million tonnes is plastic waste, most of which (70 per cent) ends up in landfills, sewers, beaches and water bodies.

The environmental impact of this practice alone is, to put it mildly, discomforting because the toxic chemical additives and pollutants found in plastics threaten human health on a global scale. The health effects, already proven by science, range from its propensity to cause cancer or change hormone activity (known as endocrine disruption), which can lead to reproductive, growth, and cognitive impairment.

Researchers estimate a loss of 1-5 per cent in marine ecosystem services due to plastic pollution, and the reduction equals a loss of about $500 billion to $2.5 trillion per year.

In Nigeria, the economic impact of poor handling of ocean resources has been most significant. For instance, in 2019, some Nigerian maritime experts said Nigeria lost about 80 per cent of her fishing industry capacity to neighbouring countries in the Gulf of Guinea region following the persistent threat of maritime security concerns, low policing of inland waters and constant pollution of waters. Kunle Folarin, chairman of Port Consultative Council (PCC), expressed concerns about investment in the nation’s fishing industry as the number of fishing trawlers operating on the nation’s waters dropped from 125 to 25 amid dwindling fishing capacity.

In the same year, the Africa Blue Economy Forum (ABEF) revealed that plastic pollution alone costs $13 billion a year in damages to marine ecosystems, adding that “90 per cent of ocean plastic waste originates from Asia and Africa, mainly due to mismanagement of waste and can be traced to just ten rivers, including River Niger.” Of course, River Niger runs in a crescent shape through Mali, Niger, on the border with Benin, and then through Nigeria.

Earlier in 2018, the World Economic Forum (WEF) noted that Nigeria was estimated to have discharged 200,000 tons of plastic waste into the ocean, which should have been converted into wealth. Plastics impact fisheries through the dumped catch, fouling incidents, net repairs and time lost cleaning nets, among other limitations.

Against this background, it becomes imperative for the nation to pay more attention to its oceans and the inherent potential of the blue economy amid concerns over fiscal sustainability and other economic challenges.

A few days ago, precisely on Thursday, June 8, the world celebrated World Ocean Day, an international day that takes place annually to identify that the ocean sustains all life on the planet and calls attention to the numerous threats to its future. The concept was originally proposed in 1992 by Canada’s International Centre for Ocean Development and the Ocean Institute of Canada at the Earth Summit.

According to the United Nations, the ocean produces at least 50 per cent of the planet’s oxygen and is home to most of Earth’s biodiversity. It also provides the main source of protein for more than a billion people worldwide, just as it is central to the global economy, with an estimated 40 million people being employed by ocean-based industries by 2030. But despite its potential, the Ocean faces threats in activities such as fisheries, ship strikes, plastic pollution, habitat degradation, and climate change.

There are concerted efforts among global organisations and thought leaders to protect and conserve the ocean and related water resources, all in line with this year’s World Ocean Day theme – “Planet Ocean: Tides are Changing”.

I attended a workshop recently in Calabar wherein I learnt about a new United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded project titled ‘Watershed Protection for Safe and Sustainable Water Supply’, designed to increase water security and resilience of 137 communities and ecosystems that depend upon the Cross River Watershed in Cross River State and the Pai River Watershed in Bauchi State. According to Andrew Dunn, the Country Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Nigeria, the project would ensure that local communities and civil society organisations are engaged in managing their natural resources and watersheds to provide improved opportunities for economically viable and sustainable livelihoods.

Beyond such initiatives, World Ocean Day also presents an opportunity for cash-strapped Nigeria to think through its blue economy agenda and how best to maximise its potential to engender growth, create opportunities across the value chain, protect the oceans, create new jobs, and stimulate the economy. For far too long, the nation has failed to tap into the vast potential available in the ecosystem as a means to shore up dwindling oil revenue.

ALSO READ: Is the blue economy a route to stronger AU-EU ties?

Interestingly, although more interventions need to be made, the failure of the Nigerian state to tap into its blue economy isn’t necessarily because of the absence of a policy to drive actions within the ecosystem. In January 2022, Nigeria launched the Expanded Committee on Sustainable Blue Economy with the mandate to recommend how to strengthen the governance framework and infrastructure of the maritime sector in Nigeria. But not much seems to have been done in actual terms in that regard.

Just two months ago, precisely in April, the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Bashir Jamoh, lamented the failure of Nigeria’s successive governments to explore the vast resources that the blue economy offers. For instance, ocean resources are poorly harnessed while ship repairs are done in neighbouring countries because the facilities are lacking locally. For a nation with an estimated 200 nautical miles available for fishing, that’s quite worrisome, and efforts must be made to “turn the tides”.

The Blue Economy Policy Handbook prepared by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa makes it clear that the full potential of the blue economy cannot be realised unless burning issues of climate change and environmental mismanagement are frontally addressed. The flood incident of last year and some of the steps that could have been taken to mitigate losses and disasters (and their multiplier effect on food sustainability and inflation!) drive home the point about the need to pay more attention to the ocean ecosystem.

Beyond fisheries, the UNDP, in its policy brief, identified other key areas the nation needs to pay attention to within the blue economy, including coastal tourism, marine transport, offshore renewable energies, waste management and blue biotechnology. That’s in addition to arresting the practice of unregulated fishing. And as I discovered in my research years ago, to attain success in the various activities designed to drive growth in the blue economy, greater attention must be given to the involvement of local communities—from artisanal farmers through to community heads.

Indeed, despite its fiscal constraints—and to echo the theme of this year’s World Ocean Day—Nigeria can turn the tides (partly) by developing its blue economy.

Source: State Cross River - Premium Time

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