Water hyacinth spread, Sh81 million weed harvester idle

Water hyacinth harvester covered by the weed at Kisumu port in a picture taken on January 17, 2019. [Denish Ochieng, Standard)

The water hyacinth is a devastating weed found in water bodies, including rivers and lakes. It doubles in six to 15 days, and for decades; it has been reducing oxygen levels and killing the aquatic life in Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world.

The purchase of a weed harvester worth Sh81 million brought hope that the weed would be eradicated from Lake Victoria, but little has come out of it.

The weed harvester was funded by the government and the World Bank in 2016, and was handed over to the Lake Victoria Environment Management Project II (LVEMP). It remained idle until the government commissioned it to the Lake Basin Development Authority (LBDA) last January. Still it has not been fully used for lack of funding.

The machine had an annual operation and maintenance budget of Sh77.5 million. The funds have not been received, slowing down its operation.

The water harvester cost Sh81 million while each of the two load trucks cost Sh10 million.

LBDA Agriculture and Natural resources chief manager Philip Oloo says the machine that is capable of harvesting 28.3 tonnes of the weed per hour has not received any funding and the little operation done is from the agency’s own initiative and its partners’.

Only 22 acres of the weed has been harvested, mainly in parts of Dunga Beach, he said. The machine works well, alongside tippers, but the two tippers ferrying the harvested hyacinth for disposal are inadequate, and there is need for a bigger pusher machine.

The pusher helps in removing Elephant grass alongside other weeds in the lake, which the hyacinth harvester cannot remove.

He said the machine harvests and returns to the shores to offload, “ and this wastes resources. A vessel sailing along the harvester is urgently required so that once the weed is harvested it is emptied into the vessel that ferries it to shore for offloading,” Oloo explained.

He said there was a shortage of manpower as the agency had not employed any machine operator, but outsourced expertise from the fisheries department on a short contract basis. “Once we settle on a source of funding, we will be able to operate it well,” said Oloo.

The Kisumu County Environment Executive, Salmon Orimba, protested that the county has not felt the impact of the machine and “we would like it to be utilised and help increase production of biomass using the harvested weed.”

Dr Chrisphine Nyamweya, the deputy director Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), said the weed currently covers 2,044ha of the lake due to increasing water levels, leading to “lots of dilution meaning the concentration of nutrients per unit volume of water is lower” and without enough nutrients the weed cannot thrive but will make a big comeback once the conditions are right and will need harvesting.

The machine was an option after scientists battling the water hyacinth were criticised for failing to adopt more practical strategies to combat the weed.

LVEMP scientists thought the mechanical approach to the lake menace was the best option and the reason the agency pushed for the purchase of the weed harvester.

Agency officials said 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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