Raila Odinga calls on researchers to do more in fight on hyacinth

An old ferry lies at the Kisumu port. The port has lost its vibrancy because water hyacinth has blocked vessels from docking. Scientists fighting the hyacinth have been asked to change tack. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]
Scientists battling the water hyacinth in Lake Victoria have been criticised for failing to adopt more practical strategies to combat the weed.

Speaking yesterday during an inspection tour of the Kisumu port, Opposition leader Raila Odinga said scientists were dwelling too much on theoretical ideas.

“At this rate, we will not get anywhere. The scientists will give us theories yet the weed is here and their theories do not help,” Raila said.

His sentiments were echoed by two Cabinet secretaries - Keriako Tobiko (Environment) and Raphael Tuju (without portfolio).

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The fight against the hyacinth is being led by scientists from the Lake Victoria Environmental Programme (LVEP).

Equipment purchase

Raila said the Sh76 million that was allocated to purchase the equipment being used to eradicate the weed was exaggerated.

He argued that better equipment with a higher output capacity could have been purchased for Sh5 million. The equipment was bought three years ago.

The former prime minister said the researchers should stop blaming procurement processes for slowing down the elimination of the weed and do more to address the problem.

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He added that the lake has been clogged from Homa Bay to Asembo Bay.

Raila said there was a need to create a canal in the lake - eight metres wide and 63 kilometres deep - and that such a plan could only be carried out if the weed was eliminated.

“We want to construct a jetty so that the Ugandans can access oil through this area, but this cannot happen because the place is covered by water hyacinth,” Raila said.

Mr Tobiko asked the researchers to come up with an immediate solution before trying to figure out long-term plans.

“The weed needs a huge investment to be eradicated and the funding from the World Bank is like a token,” he said, and appealed to the national government to prioritise the fight against the weed.

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Mr Tuju struck a more sympathetic chord with the scientists, saying the two tippers he saw at the port were not enough to remove the weed.

“That there are only two tippers to remove the water hyacinth is a very timid statement. We need something bold.”

The CS said it was important to look at a multi-sectoral approach, adding that Sh1.3 billion had been invested by the Ministry of Energy to carry out the project, yet it was doing nothing.

In response, LVEP National Coordinator Agnes Yoberic said scientists thought the mechanical approach was the best option and that was the reason her agency had pushed for the purchase of the equipment.

Ms Yoberic said that after procurement, a committee that was formed to inspect the equipment found it had a technical hitch and did not meet the specified limit of harvesting a minimum of 20 tonnes per hour.

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The official said that there were talks with the Attorney General on how to engage the equipment's manufacturer.

“There is a standoff in the sense that the manufacturer says the machine works perfectly well. On the other hand, the scientists says it is not working as expected."

The coodinator explained that there had been a push for the national government to partner with the concerned counties to fight the spread of the weed. Yoberic asked the authorities to involve fishermen, who usually harvest the weed manually despite the danger of snake attacks.

While detailing the challenges involved, Yoberic said the two tippers, which carry the harvested hyacinth to sites where they are buried, were not enough.

Anaerobic pits

The hyacinth is buried in anaerobic pits with a lot of heat to aid in its decomposition. Its seed has a dormancy of up to 40 years.

Marine experts say the weed has covered at least 4,000 hectares of the lake.

Kenya Forestry Research Institute Regional Director Jared Amwata said biological methods should be used alongside the mechanical ones if the war against the weed is to be won.

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Lake Victoriawater hyacinthRaila OdingaKeriako TobikoKisumu port