Menace no more: Youth at Dunga Beach turn to hyacinth for a living

Steve Okumu of Dunga community Eco tourism showcases his products made from hyacinth at Dunga beach. [Olivia Odhiambo, Standard]

It is 9am at Dunga beach in Kisumu.

A number of school buses are parked within the shores as school children and visitors throng the beach preparing to take boat rides.

Nearby, a group of women are preparing fish while others are already deep frying them ready to sell to any interested visitor.

A few metres from the lake is a shop where a young man is selling different products made from craftwork ranging from tables, chairs, baskets, bags, and mats. Not more than 50 metres away is another yard where a group of youths are producing biogas.

The youths are using hyacinth, the invasive plant species choking Lake Victoria, which is associated with major negative economic and ecological impacts to make biogas and the different housewares. John Steve Okumu was born and grew up in Dunga village. He started off as a fisherman more than five years ago before embarking on a journey to try his hands on something else.

Okumu is now the Chief Executive Officer of Dunga Community Eco Craft, which utilizes waste and sustainable use of the aquatic resources from Lake Victoria like water hyacinth, papyrus reeds and waste papers.

“Due to lack of school fees to continue with my education, I ventured into fishing. I went through a lot of challenges as a fisherman, among them the hyacinth in the lake, which played a big role in destroying the breeding ground for fish,” he narrates.

Okumu says the challenges he faced as a fisherman were his inspiration to start up something else to make a living. I had to be creative to survive and that is how I started up this business.

Okumu uses water hyacinth to make valuables like the serviette boxes, baskets, lampshades, table mats, and furniture.

“I am not just into this business for the sake. It is also one of the solutions to the hyacinth problem. This business has a great impact. My prayer is that one day, this problem will end but as we wait for a solution, I have opted to make use of hyacinth for a greater course,” he says.

He explains that through this creative business, he is able to make money to feed his family and pay school fees for his children.

Okumu says that despite the great value of the hyacinth in his life, it is his prayer that it will one day be eradicated to save a majority of people living around the beach who have been affected by it.

“Hyacinth is a great setback to the fishing industry and about 80 per cent of the community living around Dunga beach depend on the fishing activity for livelihood. When completely eradicated then it will be a big win for the 80 per cent. I am just one person trying to make a living, so I am open-minded,” he said.

He has asked the county and national government to empower more youths to take advantage of the hyacinth to do different things and ignore its negative aspect.

He says the county and national government has spent a lot trying to eradicate the hyacinth but it’s still there. He says the Eco Craft business is seasonal and he makes a lot of sales during the weekend and holidays. Okumu says his clients are both local and international tourists and students who now frequent the beach for school trips.

“We also educate the students about what we do here and the process of making these products from water hyacinth. We want them to understand the importance of talent and creativity besides the basic education,” he adds.

He makes furniture from orders to avoid wastage but the other housewares like mats, baskets, are always in the shop just in case a client or visitor needs one.

“The visitors from all over the world pop at the shop anytime and some prefer the small things that are lighter and easy to carry. I ensure they do not miss in the shop. The furniture are a little expensive and may take a longer period before it is bought,” he says.

There are women who have to go inside the lake to cut the hyacinth and preserve it before they make ropes from them. He does the weaving and framing of the products. Enock Owuor who works with Biogas International Limited produces biogas from hyacinth and other products like food remains, market wastes, and fish wastes at Dunga beach.

The biogas-making site was started in 2018. They use one ton of hyacinth every day for biogas production. If it is not in plenty, they supplement with other products.

“We collect hyacinth from the lake manually, when we get to the site, we shred it into small pieces and add water before feeding it to the system. Cow dung is first fed into the system to get the right bacteria before adding any other matter, which in this case is hyacinth,” he explains.

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