Blue economy: are African small islands ready to embrace the opportunities?

Addis Ababa, 27 August 2014 (ECA) - The ECA will launch a paper on the potential of Blue Economy in African Small Island Developing States (SIDS) at a side event during the third Small Island Developing States conference in Apia, Samoa on the 3rd Sept 2014. Find hereunder the highlights of the paper.

African SIDS Context

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are small-island or coastal countries located in the tropical and subtropical regions (partly) surrounded by oceans. SIDS are considered a separate group by the UN based on their specific characteristics such as small size, insularity and remoteness. They are regarded as highly vulnerable due to their social, economic and geographical characteristics.

Despite SIDS common characteristics, they are by no means homogenous, varying by geography, physical, climatic, social, political, cultural, and ethnic character as well as level of economic development (Nurse et al. 2001). African SIDS (Cape Verde, Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritius, São Tomé and Principe, and Seychelles) represent 6 SIDS of nine under the header Atlantic, Indian, Mediterranean and South China Sea (AIMS). African SIDS are few in number and therefore tend to be overlooked in the predominant literature on SIDS in relation to economic vulnerability, climate change vulnerability and recently in the Blue Economy literature. This reports aims to fill this gap in knowledge by addressing the potentials and constraints of the Blue Economy in African SIDS. Blue Economy could be used to help develop African SIDS and counter challenges they face.


SIDS are considered economically vulnerable due to heavy reliance on a limited number of natural resources, high dependency on imports and global markets; and geopolitical weakness. African SIDS are in addition particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise (SLR) in comparison to other country groups. Economically, African SIDS public debt (as percentage of GDP) is quite high in comparison to Pacific SIDS and other coastal nations, while their remittances as % of GDP is very low. Official aid as percentage of GDP is also much lower than Pacific SIDS, though higher than Caribbean SIDS. GDP per capita is low, and so is the absolute FDI.

The Blue Economy (BE)

The Blue economy is a result of a push by coastal nations during the Rio +20 process for a flavour of the Green Economy that better applies to them. The Blue Economy advocates the same desired outcome as the Green Economy namely: “improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities” (UNEP 2013). At the core of the Blue Economy is the de-coupling of socioeconomic development from environmental degradation.

Key Sectors in African SIDS Blue Economy

Fisheries - The long-term sustainability of fisheries in these SIDS has been threatened by IUU fishing, overexploitation of living marine resources, land-based pollution, destructive harvesting methods, overexploitation, invasive alien species, oceanic acidification, natural disasters and climate change. The effects of climate change are also anticipated to indirectly affect fisheries, as changing water temperature impact negatively on coral reefs and mangroves that function as nurseries, habitats and foraging grounds for fish.

AquacultureFish farming can help lessen fish imports and increase employment as well as help food security. Sustainable coastal aquaculture can reduce pressure on aquatic resources including the depletion of wild fish stocks, destruction of fish habitats and declining biodiversity. Aquaculture is still underdeveloped in African SIDS thus it’s a sector that presents great potential.

Shipping and transport - Except for Seychelles port, all ports in the African SIDS either require better infrastructure or are currently under port improvement projects. This sector is considered essential and improved ports are crucial to sustain each country’s economy. These types of projects are however costly and thus require international funding. Climate change is expected to impact the shipping sector and adaptation needs to be considered when building new, or improving old ports.

Tourism - Tourism is an important sector for the African SID except perhaps for Comoros and Guinea Bissau where the tourist sector is much less developed. Tourism has contributed much to the development of most of the African SIDS, with % contribution to GDP being highest in Seychelles and Cape Verde. Besides promoting regular dive tourism, maritime archeology is a niche that could be developed in several SIDS. It can boost education and diving tourism. Cape Verde has over 100 shipwrecks. Shipwrecks were also found in the Seychelles. In this regard, heritage tourism can be developed.

Energy - Near-shore and shallow water reserves of oil and gas are generally plateauing and declining, and offshore hydrocarbon development in deeper waters has thus become more significant. African SIDS currently do not produce any natural gas or oil but are exploring. African SIDS are highly dependent on imported oil and gas for transport and electricity generation, which is a major source of economic vulnerability. Renewable energy options with the largest potential for African SIDS include offshore wind energy; tidal energy; and energy derived from marine microbial fuel cells.

Multiple opportunities exist in the sectors outlined above. A ‘blue economy’ fishery sector is one that is ecologically sustainable, provides a higher level of economic services at lower environmental costs. Fisheries are however bound to be affected by climate change. The tourism sector is responsible for a large part of the GDP in four out of six African SIDS. Tourism should be further enhanced by attracting cruise-ship tourism and developing maritime archeological tourism. Tourist development plans however need to consider increased pollution, energy use and coastal pressure.


In conclusion, the report on Blue Economy in African SIDS contends that the sea and the coasts are drivers of economies in African SIDS and offer a lot of developmental potential. African SIDS have largely been neglected within the SIDS group as they only form a small number of countries. The report shows the pathways for development of the different Blue Economy sectors in African SIDS. The potential for development per sector differs per African SIDS due to ecological, geographical, political circumstances as well as technological and human expertise. Institutional arrangements should be made to facilitate the sharing of experiences, pursuing of mutual goals and sharing resources across the six African SIDS on the different Blue Economy sectors. Technologies must be made accessible, affordable and adaptable to the needs and particular circumstances of African SIDS by the international community, including mainland Africa.

Read the full paper here.


Issued by:

ECA External Communications and Media Relations Section
PO Box 3001
Addis Ababa
Tel: +251 11 551 5826