Blue or Green Economy: How do people understand it and how do we measure it in Tanzania?

Date: 24 June 2022

Author: Emmanuel Sulle

Because the “blue economy” and “green economy” concepts are gaining momentum in Tanzania’s sustainable development plans, citizens need to understand what these terms mean. However, the inconsistent economic activities and approaches being deployed make it difficult to understand the concept, and it is also difficult to measure.

In practice, transition plans do not alter the economic terrain, because they are either business-as-usual or intensifying business-as-usual approaches and activities. However, some less conflict-generating activities, if driven by and implemented through citizen participation, are likely to result in much more sustainable and inclusive green economic growth, as will be discussed below.

The blue economy is a component of the green economy, ie an economy improves human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. But the blue economy focuses on sustainable use of ocean, marine and coastal resources while eliminating sea pollution, including pollution from water transport equipment.

The green economy is related to the implementation of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined in the 2030 Agenda, which provide a guide for tackling environmental pollution and climate change while achieving economic growth. Supported by key international agencies like UNDP, governments in both the Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar are implementing various projects to advance broader green economic growth.

For example, Zanzibar has set up the Ministry of Blue Economy and Fisheries and formulated a Blue Economy Policy. The policy aims to put Zanzibar in a better position to benefit from its vast marine and coastal resources. But local communities, especially the small-scale fishers, are concerned that government plans will encroach on their island land sites because the government plans to lease out at least 10 small islands in the semi-autonomous Island of Zanzibar.

If government’s plans are to be implemented, small-scale fishers and the general public need to understand what place they will have in the blue economy, and whether they will be displaced by large-scale economic activities such as intensification of large-scale fishing and rapid expansion of exclusive tourism structures and practices. Therefore, when considering the small islands earmarked for leasing and the Zanzibar Archipelago’s jurisdiction, the Zanzibar Government and its stakeholders need to give a fuller picture of how small-scale fishers have been envisioned as part of the transformation plans.

Unlike the Zanzibar Island, Tanzania Mainland, which covers about 1,424 kilometres of Indian Ocean coastline, is yet to develop a policy or strategy for implementing a green or blue economy. Therefore, state bureaucrats, CSO officials, and common wananchi do not fully understand the concepts of ‘green economy’ and ‘blue economy’.

For example, when discussing the concepts with a senior government official, they explained:

“I have heard the issues of blue economy discussed with the National Environmental Management Council and the Vice President’s Office as they are coming up with few interventions on the green/blue economy in the country. That is as much as I can recall on this topic.”

Since awareness has not been created about the blue/green economy, only a few elites are partially aware of it and refer to it. Instead, people use terms like ‘climate change restoration economy’, by which they mean moving to renewable energy, tree planting and harvesting, and adopting ‘smart agriculture’.

Many undertake greening activities but do not term it ‘greening’ and do not recognise this to be part of the ‘green economy’. For example, with regard to tree planting and harvesting, which is part of the green economy, researchers in Mbulu District have noticed a steady increase in the number of farms with trees, from 83% of households in 1995 to 99% households in 2017, with farms having an average of 227 trees.

However, farmers have not linked their activity with the concept of a green economy, and these activities are not being measured to establish how they are contributing to achieving the SDGs.

Or to put this point differently: Tanzanians may be greening the economy in all sorts of ways in pursuit of sustainable agricultural practices, but these innovations are not recognised for their formal contributions to the green economy.

In the case of the Southern Agriculture Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT), the public-private partnership sought to boost the agricultural sector while also achieving green goals under the auspices of its Inclusive Green Economy project.

Since 2010, therefore, efforts have focused on increasing food production and reducing poverty by commercialising and ‘modernising’ the agricultural sector, in some instances grabbing land, and using ‘under utilised’ resources such as land.

Looking at the SAGCOT’s plans, it is clear that what is called green inclusive agricultural transformation is largely the intensification of agricultural commercialisation.

The same intensification of agriculture could be better achieved with less conflict if small producers were supported with inputs and assured of markets – through farmers’ associations and cooperatives – so they could intensify production themselves. Instead, despite 12 years of activity, many of SAGCOT’s showcase projects have not progressed as planned and some have been abandoned, partly due to a lack of land that meant 25 planned rice and sugar estates could not be established.

So how do we measure the presence of Blue/Green Economy in Tanzania?

It is difficult to assess the presence of green economy in Tanzania using indicators or standards developed from elsewhere. Some practitioners I have interviewed do not see conservation areas, forest sustainability and natural resource management as part of greening, but instead see it as keeping nature intact by planting and growing specific trees to meet Tanzania’s timber needs and make money. As such, there is a disconnect between the green activities being undertaken and the terms used by politicians and the media to discuss the state’s plans to implement a green economy.

Since the introduction of the SDGs, few countries – including African countries – have documented and reported on their efforts to implement programmes to achieve the goals. Tanzania’s Voluntary National Review (VNR) details the country’s progress towards achieving the SDGs.

The 2019 VNR reported that the country had implemented programmes to achieve six goals:

  • Quality Education (4)

  • Decent Work and Economic Growth (8)

  • Reduced Inequalities (10)

  • Protecting the Planet (13)

  • Peace and Justice (16)

  • Partnership for the Goals (17)

However, despite the government having published the VNR, it has not formulated and finalised a coordination mechanism for overseeing SDG implementation.

As one official explained,

“SDG goals are very many, so we deal with few of them, but the problem is that we either have never collected or collected few data on them. We need to harmonise indicators. We are likely reporting on proxies of those indicators. For example, how many female reproductive cattle do we have. What we report is estimates/projections and forecasts, and not actual numbers.”

Ways forward?

Moving forward, it is important for people to understand that activities they are undertaking contribute to a blue and or green economy and for government to find ways of collecting that information to understand and multiply these pockets of success in the country.

As an ESRF workshop report argues, green economy concepts and SDGs must be localised, incorporated in national development and monitoring and evaluation systems, and implemented in a way that is appropriate to the Tanzanian context.

Therefore, a clear policy is needed that will define green or blue economic activities taking place in the country – paying attention to homegrown solutions, developing indicators, planning for further roll out, and measuring progress over time.