The fact that 95 percent of the world's oceans and 99 percent of the ocean floor remains unexplored is symbolic of the limited focus there is on the Blue Economy overall. In fact, as human beings we know more about Mars and the Moon than we do about our own Oceans here on earth.
Our Oceans, Lakes and Rivers are the lifeblood of our planet. They cover more than three quarters of the earth’s surface. They shape the weather, regulate temperatures and support a staggering diversity of life. Throughout the history of mankind, our water bodies have been a vital source of food, transport, livelihoods, commerce, growth, and even inspiration.
It is therefore surprising that for a long time, the blue economy has played a marginal role in the IGAD region and the majority of the population relies on terrestrial agricultural production for their livelihoods. This over-reliance on agricultural, rain-fed economies has left our region vulnerable to shocks such as droughts, floods, economic crises, resource conflict and climate change.
As a result, food insecurity remains a perennial problem in this part of the world, in spite of the potential of the blue economy to feed this region. In fact, the IGAD region uses 30 to 40 percent of World Food Programme supplies annually. And this is while our people comprise only 3 percent of the total world population. This has to change if our region is to become more resilient. We urgently need to consider new ways of enhancing our rain-fed agricultural economies with blue economy production systems.
Many opportunities for growth, development and regional integration abound in this regard.
Consider; in terms of Food Security, the significance of fish in African diets has doubled over the past 7 years and aqua-culture has grown by 10 percent annually since 2008. The Maritime Industry has been called ‘the new frontier of the African renaissance’ with the IGAD Member States of Kenya and Somalia poised to gain the most. The oceans in the IGAD region have serious prospects for Extractives and Non-Renewable Resources through deep sea mining and energy development. Finally, the prospects for Sustainable Marine-Based Tourism have improved tremendously with the development of ports and connecting infrastructure along the coastal regions.
In recognition of this latent potential, IGAD is organizing its first Regional Blue Economy (BE) Conference on the 6th to 7th April 2020 in the Republic of Djibouti. The conference is organized under the theme: Blue Economy in the IGAD Region: For Sustainable Prosperity, Resilience and Peace. IGAD is also developing a Regional Blue Economy Strategy to sustainably manage and use its blue economy resources in the region and this strategy will be tabled for adoption by Member States around 3rq Quarter of 2020 in The Federal Government of Somalia.
This regional conference follows up on the discourse that was started at the November 2018 Sustainable Blue Economy Conference held in Nairobi. It is also sustaining the momentum of the side event on the Blue Economy held on February 8th 2020 in Addis Ababa at the 33rd AU Summit that aimed at rolling out of the Continental Strategy to RECs and Member States. In the run-up to this, event, IGAD had developed a joint project proposal with the AUC on Enhancing IGAD Blue Economy for Sustainable Prosperity, Resilience and Peace. We are confident that this will attract sufficient funding to advance the Blue Economy agenda in this region.
I therefore invite our partners to support IGAD and its member states in their effort of developing the Blue Economy. I also invite our member states to create an enabling environment for the private sector to invest in the development of the blue economy of the region.
In closing I would like to recognise that this conference would not be possible without our generous hosts, the Republic of Djibouti, the financial support of the European Union (EU) and the collaboration of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Workneh Gebeyehu (Ph.D.)
Executive Secretary, IGAD