KENYA: Livelihoods Hit as Water Hyacinth Takes Over Lake Victoria

Posted on 18 September 2007. Filed under: Environment |


Photo: Ann Weru/IRIN
The water hyacinth is clogging up bays on Lake Victoria

KISUMU, Kenya (IRIN) – Titus Mula, a fisherman, watches apprehensively as the floating weed draws nearer to the shore, carried by the waves.

“If this continues, in a couple of weeks the entire bay will be covered by the weed,” Mula said.

The water hyacinth, a free-floating perennial aquatic plant native to tropical South America, is suffocating Lake Victoria, the second-largest fresh-water lake in the world.

“When the weed first appeared on the lake people were not concerned,” he said. “We did not think the weed could pose any serious danger because of its beautiful flowers.”
However, the effects started being felt in 1997 when the beaches of Dunga, Kichinjio and Hippo point in Kisumu, in western Kenya, were rendered inaccessible to fishing boats, Mula said.

The water hyacinth moves seasonally with the waves from bay to bay blocking water-ways and affecting aquatic life as it sucks oxygen from the water.

“Whenever the weed lands on our bays, our catches decline,” Mula said, “The weed also entangles nets, making it difficult to fish. It becomes harder for us to catch the Nile Perch as the fish moves into the open waters away from the oxygen-deprived waters near the weeds,” he said. Tilapia is also affected, he said, with the decomposing hyacinth blocking breeding grounds.

Due to decreasing catches, the price of fish routinely goes up, he said. Early this year, the price shot up from 40 shillings (US 60 cents) to 120 shillings ($1.80), with middlemen taking advantage of the shortage to further hike prices, he said.

Blow to livelihoods

It is estimated that at least one-third of the populations of the three East African countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania derive their livelihoods from the lake through subsistence fishing and agriculture.

Despite its adverse effects, the water hyacinth has, however, led to the flourishing of other fish species better adapted to less oxygenated water, including cat fish and lung fish.

The weed also provides a “closed season”, preventing over-fishing in the bays it clogs up, allowing for the regeneration of the lake’s fish stock as some species hide within the hyacinth.

However, according to Mula, the adverse effects of the weed far outweigh its benefits.
The weed often blocks water-intake points, affecting supplies to Kisumu and other towns on the shores of the lake, according to the regional manager of the Lake Victoria South Water Regulatory Management Authority, Margaret Abira.

“The water quality may also be affected due to the decomposition of the plant,” Abira said, “which releases nutrients into the water leading to the blooming of algae, which may produce some toxic substances. This makes the treatment of water more costly as normal procedures are not as effective.”

Pest control

It is estimated that the River Kagera in Rwanda carries two hectares of the weed to the lake daily, along with nutrient-rich waters from degraded catchment areas.

According to Mwende Kusera of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), unusually heavy rains in the catchment areas in 2006 brought in a lot of nutrients, encouraging the germination of water hyacinth seeds – hence the resurgence. The seeds can survive for at least 15 years.


Photo: Ann Weru/IRIN
Titus Mula, a fisherman from Kisumu, aboard a boat on the Kiboko beach in Kisumu

At the height of the water hyacinth problem in 2001, when the weed covered an estimated 12,000 hectares on the Kenyan and Ugandan sides of the lake, KARI, through the Lake Victoria Environmental Management Programme, carried out mechanical harvesting and biological control of the weed using weevils.

There was a 90 percent success rate by 2005, said Jane Wamuongo, the national coordinator of the project.

However, those gains appear to be dissipating. “This is not unexpected due to the migratory nature of the weed,” she said. Local community involvement in the release of the weevils has also waned.

Without project funding, it is also difficult to carry out monitoring for control, she said, adding that there was a need to reduce dependence on donor funding for sustainability.
According to Wamuongo, intervention measures need to be basin-wide, with better methods of effluent treatment and the restoration of degraded catchment areas to reduce the levels of nutrients and pollutants reaching the lake, along with harvesting and biological control.

“The water hyacinth problem is not a one-person, one-sector approach,” she said.

While a long-term solution to ridding the lake of the water hyacinth is still being sought, local communities need to look into alternative uses for the weed, which could be used to generate bio-gas or as weaving material, according to an environment officer with the National Environment Management Authority in charge of Kisumu, Wilson Busienei.

“If there is a commercial use for the weed, then maybe its levels can be brought under control,” he said.

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11 Responses to “KENYA: Livelihoods Hit as Water Hyacinth Takes Over Lake Victoria”

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Half measures fuel the water hyacinth

The Standard : Published on September 12, 2007, 12:00 am

The water hyacinth, an obnoxious weed, has been a problem in Lake Victoria since 1989.

By the early 1990s, it was evident that the weed, eichoirnia crassipes, was a threat not only to the lake, but also to the livelihoods of more than three million people in East Africa who rely on it for survival.

The weed threatens to turn Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest fresh water lake and the world’s second largest fresh water reservoir, into the world’s biggest pool of dead water and largest mass of water hyacinth.

That the weed threatens to wipe out the Sh6.5 billion a year fishing business is of great concern. This would spell doom to the many families and traders who derive their livelihood from the lake.

That the Government is, too, concerned is not in doubt. What is in doubt is the Government’s seriousness. Put another way, does it have a comprehensive and workable strategy to eradicate the weed from the lake?

In 2001, at the height of the invasion when the weed covered about 12,000 hectares on the Kenyan and Ugandan shores, the Government contracted an American company — Aquarius Systems — to harvest the weed.

The results were encouraging. However, it is not clear why after clearing only 1,500 hectares of the weed, and pocketing close to Sh100 million, the company stopped the effort. Then, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and the Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project introduced weevils, a biological attempt to control the weed.

This was also successful and it is estimated that by last year, the weevils had reduced the acreage under the weed to a mere 400 hectares. But like the harvesting project, the biological control method appears to have died a natural death.

And the weed is back with a vengeance. Although they have failed to eradicate the weed, the methods so far applied have been effective in other countries shows. Why, then, have the methods failed in Kenya and what needs to be done?

It is now evident that Kenya has had a wrong strategy and needs to emulate the Ugandan control programme. While the weed has invaded all the waters of the three countries that share Lake Victoria, control efforts in Kenya have not been as successful as in Uganda.

This raises the question: What needs to be done to eradicate the weed? The major hindrances are the piecemeal and half-hearted measures approaches by those charged with controlling the weed.

Another problem is pollution from raw sewage, fertiliser and chemicals washed down from farms in the lake basin. They enrich the lake with nutrients and create a conducive environment for the weed to flourish.

Besides building on Uganda’s twin approach — biological control and mechanical methods that involve harvesting and shredding the weed — Kenya needs to enforce laws to stem pollution.

The revelations that the Government plans to acquire machines for the mechanical removal of the weed are welcome. It should move beyond plans and live up to the promise to acquire the machines to tackle the menace.

But it would be wrong for the Government to disregard biological control methods that have proved effective. It is, however, important to find out why the method crumbles at the last minute. This is what science and research are all about.

The government must act fast to establish long-lasting control methods against the weed. It must improve strategies that are effective against the water hyacinth.

Am a student at Masinde Muliro University of Science And Technology carrying out analysis of the percent nitrogen in water hyacinth, in a bid to suppose use ewater hyacinth in the production of manure and organic fertilisers. this information has given me a broader view of the problem of this mat like weed.

I think local community should start harvesting the weed put it in use,this should be with help of the area MPs.This would help to get rid of the weed and or give the income generating task,hence improving economic welfare of the people.

nice!

I am aDiplioma Management Student at Kenya Institute of Management,currently carrying out a resaerch on the Impact of water Hyacinth on Fishing Industry.I Strongly believe the government should apply the kazi kwa Vijana programme towards eradicating this dangerous weed by harvestinng method.The government should hire the local boats from owners and in turn pay them instead of importing new ones for this job.This will creat employment and self empowerment.Further to this,the government should empower youths by funding them and educating them on the products that can be made from the hyacinth.With this turned into job opportunity,there will be no water hyacinth existing eventually.

whenever i go to kisumu i must eat fish from the lakeside,when i sit down waiting to be served i normaly sit facing the lake,and iam moved when i rewind my memories back to those days i used to see waves of water allover and i feel excited,but nowadays i just sit down expecting cows and goats to emerge from the vegetation,its a shame we need to do something very urgently to save our lake we dont have to think about what to earn from the plant because then we have to decide on two things,to remove the weed once and for all so that we gain from fish production and tourism or we leave it to exted to benefit from biogas and weaving.but to my opinion we would luther remove it and clear it from the water because in due time it will cover the hole lake and there will be nomore fish. personally i have done alot of research and i have come up with the method i can apply to remove it ,and that can benefit the community,and thereafter benefit more from free fishing and tourism.

My dear Lawrence Muriithi, please share more, maybe by joining hands we can sort this problem once and for all. I personally believe Biogas is a sustainable solution to multiple benefits by turning the “weed” into a cash crop whilst also curbing the invasion.

Hallo fellow learned friends. I am a student of egerton university doing bsc degree in aquatic science. The proliferation of Eichhornia crassipes in lake victoria is mainly due to eutrophication. This occurs either naturally or culturally. This means that the weed can be controlled by preventing the weed spread and infestation by limiting the supply of nutrients especially N and P. This therfore calls for upgrading of the waste water treatment plants especially in major cities arround the lake. There also need to meintain the catchment area of the lake to reduce run-off especially from agricultural fields into the lake. If possible, the treatment plants can be diverted away from the Hallo fellow learned friends. I am a student of egerton university doing bsc degree in aquatic science. The proliferation of Eichhornia crassipes in lake victoria is mainly due to eutrophication. This occurs either naturally or culturally. This means that the weed can be controlled by preventing the weed spread and infestation by limiting the supply of nutrients especially N and P. This therfore calls for upgrading of the waste water treatment plants especially in major cities arround the lake. There also need to meintain the catchment area of the lake to reduce run-off especially from agricultural fields into the lake. If possible, the treatment plants can be diverted away from the Hallo fellow learned friends. I am a student of egerton university doing bsc degree in aquatic science. The proliferation of Eichhornia crassipes in lake victoria is mainly due to eutrophication. This occurs either naturally or culturally. This means that the weed can be controlled by preventing the weed spread and infestation by limiting the supply of nutrients especially N and P. This therfore calls for upgrading of the waste water treatment plants especially in major cities arround the lake. There also need to meintain the catchment area of the lake to reduce run-off especially from agricultural fields into the lake. If possible, the treatment plants can be diverted away from the Hallo fellow learned friends. I am a student of egerton university doing bsc degree in aquatic science. The proliferation of Eichhornia crassipes in lake victoria is mainly due to eutrophication. This occurs either naturally or culturally. This means that the weed can be controlled by preventing the weed spread and infestation by limiting the supply of nutrients especially N and P. This therfore calls for upgrading of the waste water treatment plants especially in major cities arround the lake. There also need to meintain the catchment area of the lake to reduce run-off especially from agricultural fields into the lake. If possible, the treatment plants can be diverted away from the lake.

Hallo fellow learned friends. I am a student of egerton university(kenya) doing bsc degree in aquatic science. The proliferation of Eichhornia crassipes in lake victoria is mainly due to eutrophication. This occurs either naturally or culturally. This means that the weed can be controlled by preventing the weed spread and infestation by limiting the supply of nutrients especially N and P. This therefore calls for upgrading of the waste water treatment plants especially in major cities arround the lake. There also need to meintain the catchment area of the lake to reduce run-off especially from agricultural fields into the lake. If possible, the treatment plants can be diverted away from the lake.

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