Impact of Water Hyacinth

The Nyanza and Western provinces in Kenya enjoys ,1600 square miles of the world’s second largest fresh water lake (by surface area) in the world. The lake is shared by Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Local communities have been able to take advantage of living by the shores and being able to fish and farm to sustain a livelihood. Over the past decade or so, Lake Victoria has been hugely affected by Eichhornia crassipes, commonly known as water hyacinth. The hyacinth plant is native to South America and is though to have reached Lake Victoria through human activity.

Hyacinth mass at Ndere Island, Lake Victoria
Hyacinth at Ndere Island, Lake Victoria

The hyacinth has almost completely covered the lake shores in the areas of Homa Bay and Kendu Bay where the main source of income for the residents is fishing. The fishermen have been unable to fish due to inaccessibilty to waters by the hyacinth mass. The fishing nets also get stuck in the mass. Several families have been led to the brink of starvation as they lack the resources or knowledge to adopt a different skill to be able to fend for themselves. Some locals have gone into alternatives such as sand farming for construction. This has hugely affected the environment as the sand/ soil that contain the roots of trees is being dug up reducing the support for trees.

There is an increase in several diseases as the weed creates a breeding area for mosquitoes and other insects. It interferes with water treatment, irrigation and deoxygenates the water reducing the nutrient supply for the marine life.

Local communities have started using the water hyacinth to make furniture and paper. The mature hyacinth is harvested, stems dried in the sun, treated with chemicals and twined into rope. This rope is then weaved into chairs, trays, tables and other furniture items.The hyacinth stems can also be boiled and mixed with waste paper to be turned into paper. The craftsmanship ideas and skills are shared amongst local communities. The products are then sold locally as exporting such items would be very expensive due to high transport costs.

Craftsmanship skills been shown by a local Kisumu resident, Duncan Omondi
Local craftsmanship being shown by Duncan Omondi, a local resident of Kisumu
Furniture being made with woven hyacinth ropes
Furniture being made with the woven hyacinth ropes

Companies such as Kenya Organic Research Centre for Excellence have been researching ways to harvest and convert biodegradable products such as water hyacinth into renewable sources of energy. However, they have not been able to harvest the total mass of the hyacinth.

The spread of the hyacinth is difficult to control due to the abundance of space, nutrients and agreeable conditions. Management techniques by the government have included insect controls and manual cleaning efforts but it is difficult to totally eradicate the spread of the hyacinth mass. In the meantime, local communities are suffering tremendously as a result of this natural mass pollutant and despite their efforts and creative solutions, are finding it difficult to earn a decent living.