If you stand on a hillside overlooking fertile fields full of crops grown by Kenya’s hard-working farmers, the economic value of the production you see before you is obvious.


Lamu’s traditional cash source — tourism — has been hit hard due to travel advisories issued by Western countries in the last five years. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

It’s the same watching herdsmen lead their livestock across our open savannahs. It’s clear those animals will benefit that person’s livelihood, and the country’s economy as a whole.

But stand on the beaches of Lamu County and I expect few Kenyans looking over the ocean would see an environment teeming with value on its way to becoming a Sh7.5 billion industry.

OVEREXPLOITATION

Our marine fisheries are perhaps our leading untapped economic resource. With the correct stewardship and investment, the resources beneath our waters could join agriculture, tea, coffee and flowers as leading industries, and employers.

But without due care and attention, this could all be lost. Sunday is the United Nations World Wildlife Day. This year for the first time it turns our attention to the life below the world’s waters. National celebrations are being held at the coast, in Malindi. Marine and coastal resources and industries provide about 5 per cent of global GDP. Three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods.

But today 40 per cent of oceans are now affected by overexploitation and poor management of marine species. Loss of coastal habitats, pollution, and climate change make this worse.

There is a way to tap these resources without causing harm to the planet, though, and we in Lamu County have a clear path to achieve this. The benefits to the people of Lamu, and Kenya as a whole, will be enormous.

FISHERMEN

First, we aim to increase production, while avoiding overexploitation.

Kenya’s seas extend 200 nautical miles from our beaches, but today our fishermen can only reach the first five of those miles because they still too often use wooden boats powered only by the wind with no refrigeration on board. With modern boats and new technology, they could tap the next 195 nautical miles. In Lamu, there could be 40,000 tonnes of fish caught annually, compared to 2,700 tonnes landed today. That would be worth as much as Sh7.5 billion.

Second, we need to modernise our fish processing industry. We aim to build cold rooms and ice plants. Finding, landing, processing, packaging, storing, transporting, marketing and selling new fish products will create so many new jobs.

And third, we will carry out research into new markets for products like lobsters, seaweed and sea cucumber, so that we can provide those customers with exactly what they want. With that, we will market and brand Lamu’s products, so that we stand out from the crowd.

FISHERMEN

But we know we must sustainably manage our fisheries to continue to reap their benefits. My County believes in devolving the management of natural resources and sharing the responsibility to protect them with those who use those resources

I hope that in understanding the massive potential of “the life beneath our waters”, more and more Kenyans will see the value of supporting Lamu and other coastal counties’ blue economy initiatives including work to develop, protect, and sustainably harvest our extraordinary marine resources. A happy World Wildlife Day to you all.

The writer is Lamu governor.