Blue economy conference: reflections

Posted on 30/01/2019
By Renwick Rose

What role is there for the literal ‘salt of the earth’ – fisherfolk, farmers, and the endangered people living on islands and along low-lying coastlines of developing countries – in the push towards a ‘Blue Economy’?

That was the big question facing representatives of those sectors as they arrived in Nairobi at the end of November 2018 for a grand international conference on the theme ‘The Blue Economy and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. It was a highly relevant topic given the present state of affairs in the world today and, in particular, the challenges facing developing countries.

‘The most urgent questions are: how do we understand and interpret what “Blue Economy” means to us, our development and sustainability?’

Unfortunately, in spite of intensive discussions at the conference, the major questions seem to remain unanswered and without a consensus as far as government to civil society relations are concerned. The conference itself was organised in such a manner as to virtually prevent a consensus from emerging. The civil society delegates were for the better part of the conference confined to ‘side event’ silos, so common in official international gatherings, and there was little space or opportunity for the results of their rich discussions to be fed into official conclusions.

The Caribbean was represented both at the official and popular sector levels and I was honoured to have been part of a Caribbean delegation supported by the Commonwealth Foundation. The composition of the delegation provided for input from sectors of Caribbean society that were highly relevant to the theme and content, including fisherfolk, farmers, women, and environmentalists. It was a pity though that there was not greater governmental presence and that there was insufficient interaction between these two critical elements of Caribbean society.

Yet the issues are critically important to our people and require more active participation from countries like ours which are on the front line of climate change challenges.  For us, ‘Blue’, whether sea or skies, is a far greater expanse than ‘Green’, the concept to which we have been historically linked. The most urgent questions are: how do we understand and interpret what ‘Blue Economy’ means to us, our development and sustainability?

How do we identify ‘our’ resources and how do we work with them? How do we prevent the plundering and pillage of our marine resources? How do we collaborate to arrest and prevent the plundering and pillage of such resources as has occurred on ‘green’ Mother Earth?

‘For us, “Blue”, whether sea or skies, is a far greater expanse than “Green”, the concept to which we have been historically linked’

For countries such as ours in the Caribbean and those in the Pacific, these matters are crucial to our survival if a mockery is not to be made of the touted ‘Blue Economy’. Critical and practical ideas were advanced by civil society representatives during the ‘side events’ of the conference, including those from the Caribbean. These included:

  • The essential role of fisherfolk in the process. They depend on marine resources for their livelihood and are crucial to the economies of small developing countries. The conference did not seem to recognise this
  • Continued interactions between government and civil society in formulating policies and programmes for the Blue Economy
  • The treatment of Blue Economy issues as integral to the development process in such countries
  • The absorption of the lessons from unrestrained pillage of land-based resources, so as not to repeat the mistakes and ensure the sustainability of Blue Economy approaches

Finally, thanks to the Commonwealth Foundation for the opportunity afforded and an appeal to those Caribbean participants not to drop the baton but to deepen our exchanges and interaction in the common cause.

Renwick Rose is coordinator and CEO of the Windward Islands Farmers Association. 

Editor’s note: other delegates to the Blue Economy conference, whose attendance was also funded by the Commonwealth Foundation, have shared their thoughts in the following places online:

Mitchell Lay, Program Program Coordinator Caribbean Network of Fisherfolk Organisations

Nicole Leotaud, Director, Caribbean Natural Resources Institute