Hyacinth menace chokes counties' fishing lifeline

Stranded fishermen try to free themselves and their boat after being suddenly surrounded by water hyacinth on Lake Victoria. Many of them have been forced to abandon the trade for farming. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]
As the fanfare around the successful hosting of the first global conference on a sustainable blue economy in Kenya dies down, the country is waking up to a new reality.

The meeting was hailed as a success, with its resolutions touted as a key in helping the country better manage its water resources.

These resolutions could not have come sooner for fishermen on Lake Victoria where the water hyacinth is back with a vengeance, covering the entire Winam Gulf, Kisumu, Kendu Bay and Homa Bay regions.

This threatens livelihoods of an entire region and by extension, the country’s fishing industry as it strives to implement the resolutions made at the Nairobi meeting.

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The fishing sector earns the country Sh35 billions annually from fish exports, especially to the European Union market, with Lake Victoria accounting for 85 per cent of inland fish exports. 

It is shocking that the county Governments of Kisumu and Homa Bay are not doing much to deal with the hyacinth menace which is not only interfering with fishing but also the movements of boats and ships and other economic activities within the lake.

The construction of the Mbita/Rusing island causeway has also worsened the situation as the blockage of the flow of water has caused the stagnation of the weed in one area.

Bilogical control

“The weed is aggressive and can cover a large area in a short time,” says Edward Alal, a fisherman at Kopiata Beach in Uyoma in Siaya county.

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At times, he says, fishermen cannot leave most landing beaches because their boats are trapped by the water hyacinth.

This has seen some fishermen in Homa Bay abandoned the trade altogether, opting to grow maize and sugarcane instead.

According to economics lecturer at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology Dr Isaiah Olale, a lot has been written and said about problems linked to water hyacinth and its negative impact on the economy and the environment.

However, he says, the solutions and commitment to eradicate it seems to be lacking.

“Anyone who has seen Uganda’s fruitless struggle against the water hyacinth knows that the weed is a deadly nightmare that needs all efforts to eliminate it,” says Dr Olale.

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This has seen the weed form an impassible canopy, providing a breed ground for snakes and mosquitoes while making the lake’s water dirty and dangerous for domestic use.

It also denies aquatic animals, including fish, oxygen.

But the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro), experts say, have the capacity to help eliminate the water hyacinth through biological control methods.

The struggle to eliminate the weed mirrors that of the Salvina Molesta which threatened to choke the life out of Lake Naivasha but which Kalro experts won.

This was achieved through careful trials and global research for appropriate biological control agents.

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Dr Olale reckons the same approach can be used to deal with the hyacinth on Lake Victoria so as to save local communities’ livelihoods and the country’s fishing industry from imminent collapse.

Not prioritised

“The Government should move fast to see that Lake Victoria is rid of water hyacinth,” says Dr Olale.

Scientists, researchers and environmental experts must collaborate with various local groups and international organisations like United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to ensure something is done urgently about the water hyacinth.”

The latest invasion of Lake Victoria by water hyacinth adds to unlimited ecological, environmental, economic problems that have haunted the world’s second largest freshwater lake for years.

Stakeholders feel the eradication of the deadly weed was not prioritised as an item for discussion at the Blue Economy Initiative.

The International Conference on African Development Conference in Nairobi two years ago also gave a wide berth to the rehabilitation of Lake Victoria.

Lofty targets

Emphasis was instead put on Kenya’s coastal region.

The World Bank, which is giving technical and financial support to Kenya to achieve the blue economy initiative, Dr Olale says, should also focus on eradicating the malignant weed from Lake Victoria.

Some of the objectives of the blue economy concept aim to help increase fish stocks in all fishing waters in the country and make the local fishery industry viable so that it can benefit individual households.

These lofty targets might, however, remain a pipe dream if crucial water bodies such as the Lake Victoria are allowed to choke under the deadly grip of the hyacinth weed.

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Lake VictoriaHyacinth WeedBlue Economy