Richly endowed with fisheries resources and valuable minerals like diamonds and oil, the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem supports vital industrial activity in Angola, Namibia, and South Africa. It also holds promise for new economic activities, such as aquaculture (marine fish farming).
Oil and Gas Exploration and Production
Crude oil production in southern Africa is dominated by Angola, while the region‘s refineries are concentrated in South Africa.
In the last two decades, Angola’s crude oil production has quadrupled, while the country’s known oil reserves have tripled since 2000. Angola is Sub-Saharan Africa’s second largest oil producer, after Nigeria, with approximately 1.3 million barrels of oil produced daily. Around one third of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 90 percent of total exports are derived from oil production.
Northern Cabinda province’s offshore fields supply more than 75 percent of the country’s crude oil. The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), of which Angola is a member, regulates the country’s oil production.
Angola’s proven natural gas reserves are estimated at 13.5 trillion cubic feet (tcf) in 2020, down from 14.9 tcf in 2019. Exports of marketed natural gas are limited. In 2019, Angola exported 204 billion cubic feet of liquefied natural gas. By 2025, the government expects natural gas to make up 21 percent of the country’s energy needs.
Namibia has a fledgling oil and gas production industry, and it is likely that the country has more gas potential than oil. To date, 24 offshore wells have been drilled, including 7 in the proven Kudu Gas Field estimated at more than 3.3 tcf of gas. The Namibian government has mandated the National Petroleum Corporation of Namibia, NAMCOR, and the electricity utility, NamPower, to pursue the development of the Kudu Gas-to-Power project in order to meet Namibia’s growing demand for electricity.
South Africa is the second largest oil consumer in Africa and the continent’s largest net oil importer. South Africa’s total oil production currently accounts for approximately 10 percent of domestic needs. Small oil and gas fields have been discovered offshore after 30 years of extensive exploration, particularly in the Bredasdorp basin (off the southern Cape coast) and off the west coast near the Namibian border.
PetroSA operates the world’s first gas-to-liquid (GTL) refinery in Mossel Bay on the Cape South Coast. It remains the third largest GTL refinery among the five now operating worldwide. The refinery is a recognised centre of GTL excellence, producing some of the cleanest fuels on the market using environmentally friendly processes. It has a production capacity of 45,000 barrels per day.
Marine Diamond Mining
The near-shore and shelf environments of the Benguela Current region hold rich reserves of minerals, particularly diamonds.
Namibia has the richest marine diamond deposits in the world, with an estimated reserve of over 1.5 billion carats. All these deposits are secondary, with the diamonds originally being sourced from kimberlites in South Africa, transported via the Orange River and deposited along the coastlines of Namibia and South Africa.
In 2005, Namibian production from onshore, beach and marine sources totaled 1.8 million carats, compared with the 1.7 million carats produced in 2003. Of this, marine production reached a record 56 percent of Namibia’s total diamond production.
Offshore diamond mining concessions extend along the full length of the Namibian coastline, from the Orange River in the south to the Kunene River in the north. Namdeb Diamond Company, an equal partnership between De Beers and the Namibian government, is the country’s main producer. In 2019, De Beers accounted for 76 percent of volume production, or 1.3 million carats out of a total of 1.7 million carats contributing about 5 percent to Namibia’s total GDP.
The considerable potential of Namibia’s marine deposits has resulted in rapid advances in marine diamond extraction technology. Modern deep water mining methods involve the use of drill systems or seabed crawlers. Both systems loosen and remove unconsolidated seabed sediments which are then airlifted or pumped to a dynamically moored vessel for processing.
Angola produced 8.4 million carats of rough diamonds worth USD1.2 billion in 2018. Alrosa (Catoca), De Beers, and Lucapa are among the major diamond companies operating in Angola.
South Africa currently produces 7.7 million carats of diamonds per year and is home to profitable and highly sought after pink and blue diamonds. Rough diamond production increased by 12 percent to 9.1 million carats in 2018, bringing total production to 35.3 million carats.
South Africa’s diamond production totalled 15.8 million carats in 2005. A total of 126 mining and prospecting licensees produced diamonds in 2005, of which 18 mined kimberlites, 90 exploited alluvial deposits and only 18 recovered diamonds from the marine environment. The Trans Hex Group and Alexkor dominate the marine mining sector in South Africa.
In 2005, marine diamond production declined sharply to about 56 000 carats from 105 000 carats in 2004. However, De Beers has committed USD118-million to equip a high-tech ship for the South African Sea Areas marine mining project.
The Benguela Upwelling System off Namibia’s coastline is one of the most productive fishing grounds in the world. With an Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 nautical miles, Namibia’s marine fisheries sector ranks among the top in Africa, and it is the country’s second largest export earner after mining.
The fisheries sector contributes 3.5 percent of Namibia’s GDP on average. Namibia has the third largest fishery capture in Africa, after Morocco and South Africa, with annual marine landings of about 550,000 metric tonnes valued at an average of N$10 billion (about 800 million US dollars).
Under the ‘Namibianisation’ drive of the workforce and the government’s objective of encouraging onshore processing and increased value addition, the sector has seen direct employment growth to approximately 16,800 people. Namibia is developing a blue economy policy, with ocean governance as a top priority, in order to maximise economic benefits from marine resources and ensure equitable distribution of marine wealth among all Namibians.
Although most of the Angolan catch is harvested by industrial and semi-industrial fleets, fisheries also sustain at least 50,000 artisanal fishers. A further 100,000 Angolans rely on artisanal fisheries for their livelihoods, the majority of whom are women who prepare and sell the catch. Seafood is a staple source of protein for the majority of Angola’s coastal population. With agriculture declining due to the war and its consequences (parts of the countryside remain mined), fisheries and aquaculture have become cornerstones of food security for large parts of Angola. The sector produced over 532, 000 tonnes in 2017, including industrial, semi-industrial, artisanal, continental, and aquaculture activities, accounting for less than 3.7 percent of the country’s GDP.
Hake, sardines, anchovies, horse mackerel, rock lobsters, squid, tuna, and various line fish species are the primary targets in South Africa. The two largest species (anchovy and sardine) are closely linked to the Benguela Current ecosystem, particularly the high productivity of the west coast upwelling. Even though fishing accounts for less than 2 percent of South Africa’s GDP, it is a significant sector in the coastal provinces and a significant source of income and employment for residents.
The fishing fleet of the country is diverse in size, ranging from small rock lobster dinghies to highly sophisticated freezer trawlers. In 2016, South Africa caught a total of 612,200 tonnes of commercial fish, of which only 900 tonnes were caught in inland waters. The primary fishery employs approximately 28,000 people, while the downstream and upstream fisheries employ over 80,000 people. Exports exceeded imports by USD 174 million in 2017. For the entire year, imports totaled USD 424 million, and exports totaled USD 598 million.
Subsistence fishers operate along the entire South African coast, harvesting a wide variety of species including line fish, mussels, oysters, ascidians (sea squirts) and periwinkles. Various species of seaweed form the basis of a modest industry which produces alginate products and feed for aquaculture operations.
Sport fishing, particularly recreational hand-lining, is a major attraction for South African and foreign tourists along the South African and Namibian coasts.
The ports of southern Africa play a crucial role in the economy of the region. Five out of the eight commercial ports of South Africa are within the Benguela ecosystem or adjacent to it: Port Elizabeth, Mossel Bay, Cape Town, Saldanha and Ngqura (Coega). Cape Town is the second biggest seaport and its terminal handles over 3,000 vessels per year for a gross tonnage of 44,500,000. The port exports fruit, perishable and frozen products, and fish.
Walvis Bay is Namibia’s largest commercial port, receiving approximately 3 000 vessel calls each year and handling about 5 million tonnes of cargo. The port is well positioned to serve the entire SADC region. It expanded in 2020 by completing a new container port facility, which now handles 750,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) per year. The port of Lüderitz in southern Namibia was primarily developed as a fishing port, but it now serves as a vital logistics hub for the marine diamond mining and the petroleum industries.
Angola has four main seaports: Luanda, Lobito, Namibe and Cabinda. Luanda being one of the most important commercial ports on the west coast of Africa. In 2006, the port handled an estimated 5 million tonnes of cargo, a 33 percent increase over the previous year. The port has a capacity of 11,166 TEUs) and handles more than 70 percent of the country’s imports. The port’s main exports include petroleum, diamonds, iron ore and fish products. Major imports include iron, steel, machinery, flour and coal.
With major international shipping routes passing through the Benguela region, the threat of maritime accidents cannot be underestimated, as they can have an immediate and devastating impact on the marine environment, destroying coastal ecosystems, beaches, and related industries such as fishing and tourism. As a result, the Benguela Current Convention places a heavy emphasis on reducing, abating, and eradicating marine pollution.
The Benguela ecosystem supports several marine species with high market and culture potential, but the aquaculture industry is largely undeveloped. However, the stage has been set for increased aquaculture production in Angola, Namibia, and South Africa. Angola, for example, has enacted aquaculture legislation and developed a comprehensive aquaculture policy based on accepted international guidelines and protocols. Aquaculture is addressed as a development priority in Namibia, where fish and fisheries play an important role in the economy, both in Namibia’s Second National Development Plan (NDP5) and in the VISION 2030 document.
Namibia’s Aquaculture Act was passed in 2003, making it the first of the three BCLME countries to translate aquaculture policy into a comprehensive development strategy. The strategy conservatively estimates that the industry should grow in value from N$20 million (USD2.8-million) to N$250 million (USD35.7-million).
Oyster farming is the most established aquaculture activity in Namibia. Both Pacific oysters (Crassostreagigas) and European oysters (Ostreaedulis) are grown. Red seaweed, Gracillaria is cultured in a 40-hectare plot in Lüderitz lagoon to supplement the collection of beach cast product. Abalone farming has attracted interest in Namibia and one farm is currently operational at Lüderitz Bay. There is also considerable interest in rearing rock lobster (Jasuslalandii), marine finfish (dusky Kob, Argyrosomusinodorus; and Turbot, Psetta maxima) and scallops.
Although South Africa’s National Aquaculture Policy Framework (NADF) was only approved in 2013, its aquaculture industry is the most productive of the three countries. It produces abalone, mussels, oysters, turbot, and prawns. Species on the threshold of commercial production include seaweed and kob (Argyrosomus spp.).
In South Africa, there are approximately 230 aquaculture farms producing approximately 6,000 tonnes of fish per year, with abalone farming accounting for the majority of this production. Aquaculture’s total sales value was approximately R1 billion in 2018. Government assistance programs such as the Aquaculture Development and Enhancement Program (ADEP) and Operation Phakisa aided the sector’s rapid expansion. For instance, the aquaculture laboratory at Operation Phakisa benefited the sector significantly, resulting in a number of interventions, including the ADZ in Saldanha Bay. Aquaculture has been identified as a priority subsector for South Africa’s Ocean economy development.
The Angolan Ministry of Fisheries is in the process of establishing several technical training and support centers for the artisanal fishery industry as well as regional processing and cold storage facilities. In addition, several private sector aquaculture farms are under development.