Water hyacinth destroying livelihoods on the lakeside

Water hyacinth on a section of Lake Victoria. [File, Standard]

Hoteliers, fishermen, and traders operating by the lakefront in Kisumu County have resolved to hire manual labourers to uproot water hyacinth, which interferes with the scenic view of the lake and other activities such as fishing.

This is happening as the disruptive weed reemerged in the lake and covered several beaches across the Nyanza region.

Scientists attribute the return of the weed to high nutrients inside the lake.

Currently, the weed has covered 1,000 hectares of the lake with Winam Gulf in Kisumu County, Asembo Bay in Siaya County and Kendu Bay, among the worst affected.

Dunga Hill camp’s Executive Director Jagpal Sandhu said the emergence of the intrusive weed is causing him losses and has reduced the number of visitors to his establishment.

“I have clients who come to enjoy meals while others come to enjoy boat rides,” he noted.

Additionally, Sandhu said some customers who visit the spot for the ambience and sundowner late in the evenings claim they do not feel safe for fear of wild animals emerging from underneath the stubborn plants.

“Although I hired people to help clear the weed manually daily, it has become very costly to maintain,” said Sandhu.

According to the Kenya Marine Fisheries and Research Institute (KMFRI), the water hyacinth has covered most of the bays in the lake due to the nature of water stagnating in those areas.

KMFRI’s Director of Freshwater System Research Dr. Christopher Aura said the population of the invasive weed is bound to increase due to favorable climatic conditions, which boost its growth.

He said the windy weather is pushing the weed to the shores causing the water hyacinth to flower and produce seeds.

“The last time the weed surfaced was about three years ago,” said Dr Aura.

Kisumu’s Beach Management Unit Chairman Maurice Otieno said there have been several attempts to clear off the stubborn weeds which have not fully been effective considering they grow very fast.

He said fishermen have challenges accessing the lake when the weed which has negative impacts on their fishing activities appears.

“Fishermen have been recording a decline in daily catch since the weed started reappearing,” said Otieno. 

On a good day, fish catch could go up to 1,000 kg but it has reduced drastically.

He said if this continues, it will negatively affect fishermen who depend on fishing as a source of livelihood if nothing is done to remedy the situation.

“Our daily catch has been reduced to less than 200kg, which is a threat to food security. Most fishermen cannot go to the lake when it is covered with hyacinth, for fear of attacks by wild animals which tend to harbour underneath the weeds” he said.

Normally, hyacinth covers the water surface like a blanket, making it difficult for fishermen to steer their boats as it tangles fish propellers.

The plant floats on water and moves depending on the weather changes.

“Whenever the wind blows, it moves causing fishermen to be trapped in between the plants for hours,” said Otieno.

According to Millicent Awino, a fishmonger at Ogal Beach, the reduced amount of daily catch has affected her business flow making life unbearable.

There are hopes some of the efforts the government is pursuing will help address the water hyacinth problem.

Already, the Lake Basin Development Authority in collaboration with Kenya Shipyard Limited and Kenya Ports Authority have begun dredging the lake to restore depth and curb the rapid spread of the hyacinth.

According to KSL managing Director Paul Otieno, this helps in restoring the aquatic ecosystem for plants, fish and wildlife.

“It also removes unwanted nutrients from the sediment and water column, improving water quality and preventing the development of harmful algal blooms, which are toxic to humans, fish and wildlife,” said Otieno.