A Conversation with Aboud Jumbe, Principal Secretary of Zanzibar’s Ministry of Blue Economy and Fisheries
[The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.]
The Blue Economy, according to the World Bank, is the sustainable use of resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health. In Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous island state off the coast of mainland Tanzania, ocean-based activities contribute over 29% to GDP and 33% of its labor force, while tourism accounts for another 30% of its GDP. Additionally, 98% of Zanzibar’s foreign trade is maritime-based.
Sustainable development and management of the Blue Economy, therefore, is crucial for Zanzibar’s present and future. As a whole, Tanzania is now making strides towards mainstreaming ocean governance and blue economy in the national development agenda. The Nairobi Convention Secretariat sat down with the first-ever Principal Secretary of the newly established Ministry of Blue Economy and Fisheries of Zanzibar, Aboud Jumbe (formerly the Alternate Focal Point of Tanzania to the Nairobi Convention) to discuss how the Ministry is setting out to realize the island’s full Blue Economy potential.
Q: Why, in your opinion, is the Blue Economy so important?
A: Globally, we know that 35-40% of the world’s population live within 100 km of the coast. Fisheries account for 15% of global protein intake. 90% of international trade is conducted by sea. 50% of the major tourist trips globally are beach destinations. Major cities around the world are built by coastal areas.
The concept of the Blue Economy sprung up because we know today what we didn’t know yesterday – i.e., that the ocean is not well. A balancing act needs to be struck between harvesting the ocean in an accelerated but sustainable manner while investing more in its protection.
Blue economy approaches can create opportunities for coastal populations that transform livelihoods while being compatible with their cultural heritage and systems. These approaches can also help address gender equality and promote social inclusion.
Furthermore, the Blue Economy is so important in Zanzibar also because of how much is included under its umbrella – there’s small-scale fisheries and aquaculture, but also deep sea fishing, tourism, a potential for offshore renewable energy, and ongoing exploration activities on oil and gas. Nowadays, there are even more efforts by Tanzania to engage marine scientific research and equitable benefit sharing, bioprospecting, enhancing port infrastructure, and mechanizing industrial processing facilities for fisheries and aquaculture, etc.
Q: Can you tell us a little more about the establishment of Zanzibar’s Ministry of Blue Economy and Fisheries?
A: Although Tanzania has, in the recent past, been charting a new strategic direction towards ocean governance, the Blue Economy push really gained momentum during Zanzibar’s last presidential election campaign in 2020. During the election, our president [Dr. Hussein Ali Mwinyi] took a big, historic risk by putting the Blue Economy Agenda at the center of his election campaign. I don’t recall any other politician from anywhere else in the region ever doing this. The president’s message was that, as a small island, Zanzibar’s fate – its destiny – would depend on us capitalizing on our ocean resources. This transformation would need to be based on a blending of our traditional maritime heritage with a modern structural transformation of our economy through strong ocean governance.
After his election, President Mwinyi immediately started to implement these commitments. He established the first-ever Ministry of Blue Economy and Fisheries, with two key foci – 1) empowering local people to let them see the true value of embracing the Blue Economy; and 2) accelerating structural transformation of Zanzibar’ economy through bankable and sustainable investments for the Blue Economy. Today, the name President Mwinyi is synonymous with the Blue Economy Agenda in Zanzibar and in Tanzania as whole. The President is not only recognized as the new Blue Economy Champion in the regional bloc, but also carries the torch for the global He-for-She Campaign.
Q: What are the greatest opportunities you foresee for the Blue Economy in Zanzibar?
A: The IMF, through its post-COVID-19 Recovery Fund, approved $567 million for Tanzania in September 2021. Of that, roughly $100 million is coming to Zanzibar. Around $15-16 million of this total will be diverted to Blue Economy sectors like small-scale fisheries, sea cucumber and seaweed farming, mud crab fattening, etc. We’re also benefitting from the support of many development partners, from the embassies here, the Nairobi Convention, etc. For example, UNEP Nairobi Convention is already funding the implementation of two projects under the WIOSAP and SAPPHIRE projects. UNDP Tanzania has already dedicated its workforce to support Zanzibar develop its Blue Economy development framework. France, through the French Development Agency, has dispatched Blue Economy experts to support the Ministry of Blue Economy and Fisheries to implement its strategic priorities. Meanwhile, Norway is supporting Zanzibar to establish its Marine Spatial Planning framework. UN Women has committed to support social inclusion and women empowerment in Blue Economy in Zanzibar.
The European Union is already on the ground carrying out its EU Green Deal approach to support the Blue Economy in Tanzania. Ireland has supported the establishment of the Tanzania’s version of the Great Blue Wall Initiative, known as the Tanga-Pemba Seascape, implemented by the IUCN. Moreover, WIOMSA is currently supporting a Blue Economy Value Chains study implemented by Technoserve. Germany has also committed to support Zanzibar’s Blue Economy agenda though protection and conservation of marine biodiversity. USAID has already committed to support Zanzibar with accessible sustainable blue economy financing systems.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of during your time so far as Principal Secretary?
A: We couldn’t tackle everything at once, Blue Economy is too broad. We had to identify what issues would really ‘take’ in terms of public opinion. Over the past 1.5 years, we’ve focused on four key areas. The first is enhancing public awareness and understanding of Blue Economy. We’ve also worked on building individual and institutional capacity on Blue Economy.
Secondly, we are working on innovative ways to help different Blue Economy sectors access capital. For example, under President Mwinyi’s Post-Covid 19 Blue Economy recovery plan, we have successfully convinced and mobilized local banks in Tanzania to open up to blue economy micro-entrepreneurs. Banks are now offering these small businesses, who previously may have been classified as ‘credit risks’, with access to banking services, like soft loans, to help stimulate the local economy .
Thirdly, we’re working on developing access to markets for our blue bio-trade products such as fish, anchovies, octopus, sea cucumber, mud crabs, and seaweed. In Zanzibar, we’re producing around 8-10,000 tons of seaweed per year, 30.58 tons of sea cucumber per year (in 2019, before the onset of COVID19), 38,000 tons of fish catch per year, etc. It’s therefore important to expand outside of the local market and export these blue economy products. But we can’t export unless we have high quality products and competent authorities who can enforce quality standards and ensure that our products are on par with global standards.
Finally, the Ministry is also responsible for marine protection. We have a mandate to oversee and manage all marine conservation areas [also known as marine protected areas, or MPAs] in Zanzibar. A number of NGOs – both local and international – such as Mwambao, WCS, TNC, WWF, Blue Finance, Chumbe Island, etc. have been directly involved in collaborative work with the Department of Marine Conservation to ensure ocean protection. Additionally, the World Bank Pro-Blue project to combat marine litter and microplatics is in the scoping process stage.
Q: How do you plan on measuring the success of Zanzibar’s Blue Economy policy?
A: Conventional statistics systems are not necessarily compatible with measuring the Blue Economy. Though we have conventional data on fisheries, taxes, imports/exports, etc., we must do more to address the whole context of marine natural capital and capture the potential of the oceans. This will help investors decide whether an investment is worth the risk, and it’s a challenge. UNDP is partnering with the Tony Blair Institute to help us build a Blue Economy delivery system, establishing strategic priorities and bankable projects. These will require a Blue Economy dashboard that will standardize this data delivery. Already, UNDP, WIOMSA and other partners have come forth to show willingness to support the delivery systems.
We’re also working with Sustainable Seas Trust on how to develop marine litter and plastic waste data indicators and related ‘towards-zero-plastic-waste science-to-policy’ platforms for the Blue Economy. We want a system that, for instance, warns us about environmental hazards like marine pollution – but at the same time measures the progress we’ve made to ameliorate this issue. I’m confident that we will soon have these data systems up and running.