Tag Archives blue economy

Reclaiming control of Indonesia’s oceans by Salena Tramel

At once unexplored and overexploited, the oceans surrounding Indonesia represent neoliberal development’s final frontier. But Indonesian activists are building a global movement to resist the financialisation and privatisation of the world’s oceans.

Indonesia, the largest archipelago in the world, holds some stunning coastal and deep-water resources. With more than 17,500 islands straddling two oceans, the sea is not only a way of life, but also a source of it.

Fisheries account for a significant part of Indonesia’s trillion-dollar economy – the largest in Southeast Asia. More than 30 percent of global maritime trade finds its way through the Strait of Malacca, which is among the busiest of international shipping lanes. Tourist havens are seemingly everywhere, from the palm-fringed beaches of Bali, to the abundant shallow-water reefs of the Coral Triangle.

Managing marine ecosystems is therefore an unsurprising priority for the vast number of actors that have a stake in Indonesia’s coastal economy. At once unexplored and overexploited, the oceans represent neoliberal development’s final frontier. The twin processes of ocean acidification and global warming, and related international political responses further complicate matters.

Blue economy 

New analysis was recently published in the journal Science, indicating that oceans are heating up 40 percent faster than a United Nations panel of experts predicted in a study carried out five years ago.

The study further concluded that in 2018, seawater temperatures reached an all-time high and were expected to escalate further in the coming years. Theses studies mirror those on land, where combined data from NASA and NOAA show that the five hottest years ever have occurred in the 2010s.

For many, marine ecosystem management, fisheries management, and climate change mitigation strategy are embodied in a redoubled commitment to the blue economy – the idea that the financialisation of oceans can reap economic profit and save the environment at once.

But what kind of development does the blue economy seek, and for whom? In Indonesia, small-scale fishers and their communities are holding fast to various manifestations of traditional knowledge that they see as key to ensuring the survival of the seas and of future generations.

Whose Oceans?

The Indonesian islands have long been at the forefront of oceanic policy and development circles, in large part because of their sheer numbers and strategic location.

One such high-level process held recently was the Our Ocean conference, which took place in late October in Bali. The meeting brought together a large number of powerful actors to debate some of the most pressing oceanic issues: climate change, fisheries, the blue economy, pollution, maritime security, and marine protected areas.

As is the case in many top decision-making spaces, representatives of governments, corporations, and intergovernmental institutions were given a seat at the table. Notably absent, however, were those closest to the sea – the fishers.

Marthin Hadiwinata, Chief Executive of the Indonesia Traditional Fisherfolk’s Union (KNTI), said: “Policies on marine issues cannot be addressed in the absence of fishing communities who have direct linkages to the ocean”.

Hadiwinata explained that the issue of marine pollution, for instance, most deeply affects people living around the coastal areas and small islands: “Rather than inviting fishers to share their solutions,” he added, “companies who are involved in mining and other forms of extractive industry that dump their waste into the sea are regarded as corporate partners in cleaning up dirty waters”.

Blue carbon 

Likewise, climate change mitigation and adaptation projects often turn to the problems that caused the environmental crisis in the first place as a way of responding to it. Take for example Blue Carbon, where, as with other carbon sequestration programs such as REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation), polluters are allowed to continue their practices so long as they purchase ‘offsets’ in ecosystems elsewhere.

Most often, the burden falls on the shoulders of peasant and indigenous rural working communities, converting their crops and gathering spaces into monocultures such as industrial tree plantations.

Blue Carbon applies this logic to mangrove, coral, and seagrass ecosystems, while small-scale fishers who work in these areas are treated as nuisances and prohibited from future access to their fishing grounds.

Blue Carbon has been championed in high-level policy spaces such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) processes, as well as through ‘big green’ organisations like the Nature Conservancy. It is currently being pioneered in Indonesia.

People’s movements 

Indonesian social movements and grassroots organisations have long been in the business of carefully protecting the islands’ cornucopia of natural resources. In the rapidly evolving marine sector, fishers are forced to be quick on their feet when putting their solutions on the national agenda.

KNTI, the small-scale fisher’s movement that is present in nearly all of Indonesia’s 34 provinces, is playing a leadership role in turning the tide of both discourse and policy towards justice and sovereignty for fishers. This task is done at scale, targeting national and transnational political dynamics.

When word of the Our Ocean conference and its lack of grassroots representation reached KNTI’s members, they were quick to clap back by organising their own participatory meeting: the Ocean’s People Conference. Unlike its ‘official’ counterpart, the parallel meeting reflected the diversity of Indonesia’s small-scale fisheries sector.

The gathering strategically took place in Jakarta – not just to make it more accessible, but also to shed light on marine megaprojects encroaching on the busy capital. The most notorious of these has been a land reclamation project supported by Indonesia’s former colonisers, the Dutch.

This project has been centred on protecting Jakarta from floods by installing a network of fake islands and a giant seawall in Jakarta Bay. While the Governor of Jakarta finally revoked some of the permits necessary to complete the project – thanks, in large part, to a strategic battle fought at the hands of social movements like KNTI – much of the damage had been done.

Local activists 

Ipah Saripah, a fishworker from North Jakarta, explained that the reclamation issue has profoundly impacted her family’s livelihood: “Even though the reclamation stopped, they’ve already constructed four islands,” she said, “and that development is right in the middle of our fishing areas.

“We have been bribed, intimidated, displaced, and even tortured to make way for this reclamation,” she added.

Saripah and other activists from the fishing communities feel that big reclamation projects like the one stalled in Jakarta Bay serve as a blueprint for coastal development in Indonesia. Similar megaprojects are being rolled out in other parts of the country, and they are woven together with the common thread of replacing traditional fishing practices with profit-seeking industries backed by big Asian and European capital.

That’s what the Ocean’s People Conference and related gatherings of people’s movements are attempting to shut down. Ibu Rofi’ah, a representative of a peasant organisation in East Nusa Tengarra, Indonesia’s southernmost province, said: “We are not looking for money, but for means to spread our knowledge.”

Ibu Rofi’ah travelled to Jakarta to explain how she played a leadership role when her community put an end to an iron-mining operation. Today she is working with fisheries cooperatives that find themselves in standoffs with corporations in the mining and tourism sectors.

Movement building

Members of KNTI recognise that their struggles reflect those of fishing communities elsewhere. To this end, the movement is an active member of the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP), a transnational social justice movement dedicated to serving the unique needs of fishers and fish workers.

Since the issues affecting fishers have become increasingly entangled – for instance, when climate change adaptation policies meet big capital – WFFP has doubled down on its attack strategies to protect the communities it represents.

A key part of that is actively promoting the Small Scale Fisheries Guidelines, which is the only comprehensive global governance instrument intended to protect fishers and traditional fisheries. KNTI has been doing this work across Indonesia, and making its demands global through social movement gatherings and even United Nations processes.

Marthin Hadiwinata said: “Here in Indonesia, we are pushing the government to immediately recognise and protect fishers’ rights. And at the same time, we are building the global movement to resist financialisation and privatisation of the world’s oceans.”

This article was originally published in The Ecologist: https://theecologist.org/2019/feb/01/reclaiming-control-indonesias-oceans?fbclid=IwAR2E4tVd0ylFjOcEJKqtD4EKG_mxVRaBVsd9dmyMyW-CNdGigsoA-Zep_74

18033356_10155194755021449_220274621249703711_nAbout the author:

Salena Tramel is a journalist and PhD researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague, where her work is centered on the intersections of resource grabs, climate change mitigation, and the intertwining of (trans)national agrarian/social justice movements.

Development Dialogue 2018 | Blue Economy: A New Frontier of an African Renaissance? by Johan Spamer

The African Union recently proclaimed that the ‘Blue Economy’, as the ocean economy is increasingly known, could become the ‘New Frontier of an African Renaissance’. The Blue Economy promises sustainable development through its focus on socio-economic inclusion and the protection of the maritime environment, but is it really all it promises to be? With the first global conference on the sustainable development of the blue economy taking place in two weeks, this article takes a closer look at what the Blue Economy is about.  

It was as late as 2012 that the Blue Economy was officially recognised at the Third International Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (Rio+20). In the absence of a universal definition, Verma (2018) argues that the Blue Economy can be regarded as the integration of ocean economy with the principles of social inclusion, environmental sustainability, and innovative, dynamic business models (p.103). As such, the Blue Economy offers a new and alternative sustainability approach that goes beyond simply harmonising activities in an ecologically friendly manner. It’s a notion that grew out of the Green Economy (Claudio, 2013), but with different policies and frameworks, offering its own characteristics and domain for countries whose futures are based on maritime resources. Africa is calling the Blue Economy narrative the frontline of the continent’s rebirth, but what is this new notion, and how is it different from other blue-infused (e.g. Europe’s blue growth) drives?


The paths followed by leading African countries (e.g. Seychelles, Mauritius, Kenya and South Africa) in establishing Blue Economy frameworks are important, and so is the manner in which these countries go about it by establishing dedicated departments for implementation. The Blue Economy per definition offers an opportunity to prevent the vulnerable, often also marginalised populations, from missing out on socio-economic opportunities in the maritime sector. Furthermore, these beneficiaries can now obtain a fair share of the public good, claim their voices on an equal footing, and can attain a secured sense of dignity through unlocking wealth opportunities.

At least, this is the picture painted by African legislators. However, we are still lacking sufficient empirical data and scientific research to substantiate these foreseen outcomes. Critique against or endorsements of the African Blue Economy are both reference to ad hoc cases and by making broad conclusions in the absence of rigourous in-depth case analyses. Furthermore, the scope of the Blue Economy within the African context includes lakes, rivers, dams, and underground water. It goes beyond the traditional coastal and ocean-based economies with landlocked countries also included in the regional strategies (UNECA, 2016). This makes generalisation and case comparisons with non-African Blue Economy countries complex.

Central to this approach, and within the context of people-orientated sustainability (Attri and Bohler-Muller, 2018), is the principle of social justice through fairness (equity) and inclusivity. The aforesaid echoes strongly with the SDGs’ sentiment (see SDG 14) to ensure long-term sustainability by:

  • Enhancing and leveraging newly received benefits from the ocean environments to the benefit of all (inclusivity) through activities such as bioprospecting, allocated fishing quotas or rights, oil and mineral extraction agreements;
  • Fostering national equality (parity which includes gender equity), allowing for inclusive growth associated with decent employment for all; and
  • Having strong international governance structures and measurements in place to specifically guide the developing country regimes for nearby seabed development. This relates to the management of their rights and interests to be properly sanctioned in the expansion of their national waters beyond the current state dominion.

Keen et al. (2018) provide a useful overview of the Blue Economy. As expected, the three main sustainable components (economic, social alias community and ecosystem) underpin the core Blue Economy aspects. These components are complemented by enabling institutional arrangements as well as technological capacity, reflecting the linkages within such a multi-scalar model. The three predominant concepts that are important to oversee this sustainable development framework are: a) agency, b) power, and c) politics.

As such, we can contextualise and link these concepts within the domain of development studies in the following manner (although not limited to): the need for agency through institutional platforms (e.g. multi-stakeholder initiatives), power relations (e.g. gender), influencing the political economy (e.g. the role of the developmental state), political ecology (e.g. ecosystem resilience), and the role of technology (e.g. innovation).

Notable is the acknowledgement of the importance of diversity (cultural values) and gender equity. The Indian Ocean Rim Association’s (IORA) Declaration on Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment, adopted at the 16th Council of Ministers Meeting in 2016 (Bali, Indonesia), affirmed the overall commitment towards the promotion of women’s rights (Verma, 2018). The success of the Blue Economy as an exemplar for promoting inclusiveness and equity depends on how different vulnerable groups such as marginalised women, skill-deficient persons, and poor communities are incorporated. At a theoretical level, the Blue Economy is portrayed as an evolutionary concept over the long term. The benefits are foreseen to mainly depend on the theories still to be developed by the scholarly activity in this research domain (Attri, 2018).


The Blue Economy as a sustainable development framework explains how social justice and equality can be addressed on different levels, especially for the most vulnerable. Partnerships, capacity building, infrastructure development and country-level frameworks are very important in the process of opening up new markets and allowing for greater access in a sustainable way. Barbesgaard (2018) challenges this view, labelling ‘blue growth’ as ocean grabbing. This view is supported by Brent et al. (2018), who highlight contradictions within the blue economy’s ethos and question the promise of an inclusive three-fold win on a socio-economic-ecological level.  Still, this is what Africa seems to be calling for (at least the African Union), and the Blue Economy is seen as the vessel to cross to new (socially just) opportunities by keeping a balance between factors; more growth but with less unsustainable practices.

Kenya will be hosting the first global Sustainable Blue Economy Conference from 26-28 November 2018 in Nairobi.  All are invited, with special arrangements to welcome the marginalised and often excluded parties (e.g. poor communities and small-scale fishers). However, the question remains: will all have equal voices and approve the agenda? See http://www.blueeconomyconference.go.ke/ for more details.

Attri, V.N. (2018). The Blue Economy and the Theory of Paradigm Shifts. In Attri, V.N. and Bohler-Muller, N. (Eds). (2018). The Blue Economy Handbook of the Indian Ocean Region. (pp. 15 – 37).  Africa Institute of South Africa.
Attri, V.N. and Bohler-Muller, N. (2018). The Beginning of the Journey. In Attri, V.N. and Bohler-Muller, N. (Eds.). (2018). The Blue Economy Handbook of the Indian Ocean Region. (pp. 1 – 12). Africa Institute of South Africa.
African Union (2012). 2050 Africa’s integrated maritime strategy, version 1.0. African Union.
Barbesgaard, M. (2018). Blue growth: saviour or ocean grabbing? The Journal of Peasant Studies, 45 (1) 130 – 149.
Brent, Z.W., Barbesgaard, M. and Pedersen, C. (2018). The Blue Fix: Unmasking the politics behind the promise of blue growth. Transnational Institute.
Claudio, C. (2013). From Green to Blue Economy. Philippines Daily Enquirer 23 June 2013. Available at: http://business.inquirer.net/128587/from-green-to-blue-economy [Accessed 23 Augustus 2018].
Keen, M.R., Schwarz A-M and Wini-Simeon. Towards defining the Blue Economy: Practical lessons from Pacific Ocean governance. Marine policy, 88 (2018), 333-341.
UNCTAD. (2014). The Oceans Economy: Opportunities and Challenges for Small Island Developing States. United Nations Publications.
Verma, N. (2018). Integrating a Gender Perspective into the Blue Economy. In Attri, V.N. and Bohler-Muller, N. (Eds.). (2018). The Blue Economy Handbook of the Indian Ocean Region. (pp. 98 – 124). Africa Institute of South Africa.
UNECA. (2016). Africa’s Blue Economy: A Policy Handbook. Economic Commission for Africa.

This blog article is part of a series related to the Development Dialogue 2018 Conference that was recently held at the ISS.

JS Photo #1

About the author:

Johan Spamer is a researcher at ISS in the domain of multi-stakeholders initiatives (MSIs), inclusive development and innovation, specifically within the Blue Economy.