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Considering the ocean and transdisciplinary research in the UK’s International Development Strategy

Senia Febrica

One Ocean Hub, University of Strathclyde, UK

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This blog summarises the key messages of the One Ocean Hub’s written submission for the UK Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office’s call for evidence on the International Development Strategy.

This blogpost summarises the key messages of the One Ocean Hub’s written submission for the UK Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office’s call for evidence on the International Development Strategy. The call for evidence sought contributions from people and organisations to inform the forthcoming UK International Development Strategy, following the government’s year-long Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, published in March 2021. The Prime Minister has commissioned the Foreign Secretary to lead work on the Strategy, which is expected to be published in the later part of 2021.

The Hub’s contribution highlights how progress on international development to 2030 might be impacted by global trends in poverty and what is needed to achieve success in 2030 to meet the needs of the poorest and most marginalised, and increase opportunities for countries to become self-sustaining.


Whilst globally there has been a decline in extreme poverty, African countries continue to have the highest rates of poverty in the world. The Hub emphasised that under current trends ‘Africa will increasingly be left behind: by 2045, it is likely that around 85% of the poorest billion people will live in Africa’ (HM Government, 2021, p.27). The Hub therefore recommended that UK Government should maintain eradication of extreme poverty as a central tenet of ODA funding, and ensure that the poorest people in African countries are not left behind.

The One Ocean Hub also reported on how its research is contributing to addressing this challenge by channelling available legal, technical and strategic international support towards ocean-dependent communities in our focus countries in Africa (South Africa, Ghana, and Namibia), as well as upscaling relevant findings to benefit other ODA-recipient countries:

  • Hub work on small-scale fisheries in collaboration with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), small-scale fishers (SSF) and government representatives, as well as non-legal researchers, raised awareness of the extent to which international law on fisheries sustainability and human rights is (or is not) applied in South Africa, Ghana and Namibia.
  • In Namibia, a regional workshop led to concrete actions for Hub researchers in Namibia to support the development of Namibia’s National Action Plan on SSF.
  • At regional and international levels, a regional workshop we co-organised with the FAO identified replicable findings that have already been incorporated into a Diagnostic Tool for the analysis of national laws and policies against international obligations on the ecosystem approach and SSF human rights. FAO will publish the Diagnostic Tool for use across the world. Furthermore, FAO invited the Hub to co-develop two e-learning courses to respond to government officers’ and fishers’ needs respectively, to implement the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication. The latter will allow SSF to obtain an international certification on the FAO E-learning Academy, which contributes to their professional development and recognition of their expertise by authorities. Meanwhile, with our input, FAO integrated the specific challenges of SSF in capacity-building events for ocean-related government officials and stakeholders, co-organised by the Hub and the UN Division for Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea.

The significance of these initiatives was recognised by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). The Hub has been invited to contribute to UNEP activities on “environmental human rights defenders” with a view to recognising SSF, indigenous peoples and local communities negatively affected by blue economy initiatives as defenders. This addresses a blind spot in current international initiatives that are land-focused and ignore “ocean defenders.” It also contributes to poverty alleviation since empowering and upskilling SSF in defending the ocean ensures them sustained livelihood and food security.


To achieve success in international development by 2030, the Hub called for investment in equitable, transdisciplinary research with Global South countries for the resolution of complex sustainable development challenges. The One Ocean Hub thus shared its experience of how transdisciplinary research can further transformative change from local to international levels towards integrated and inclusive ocean governance, realising all targets of SDG 14: ‘Life Below Water’ and multiple, interconnected SDGs through:

Based on this work, the Hub recommended that in order to support development at country level, investment should focus on ensuring that decision makers in low- and middle-income countries have capacity to co-develop evidence-based policies and laws with different sectors and knowledge holders. This would result in legislation and policy that supports integrated and sustainable ocean governance, management and interventions, including those that support sustainable and supplementary livelihoods.


The Hub recommended that the UK Government can best support long-term international development outcomes by:

  • promoting inter- and trans-disciplinary research-for-development programmes to deal with changing trends and to address intractable development challenges at multiple levels.
  • Supporting the integration of both marine science and social sciences in ocean research to deal with urgent and complex challenges such as loss of biodiversity and climate change which exacerbate poverty and inequality, particularly in Africa.
  • funding research that supports long-lasting capacity building, integration of diverse knowledge and technology-transfer in low and middle income countries, so as to make lasting changes through strengthening existing partnerships, or creating new ones, across nations and diverse actors