Early this week, counties bordering Lake Victoria bought a water hyacinth harvester. The counties, which form Lake Region Economic block comprises Homabay, Migori, Siaya, and Busia.The equipment was bought with aid from World Bank at a cost of 76Million.This comes barely five months after the leaders of the counties filed a case against the government at the High Court for what they termed, a deliberate 'economic sabotage' policy of the said regions by the Jubilee administration.
A look at Lake Victoria today will leave you in shock. The once dazzling second largest fresh water lake is a pale shadow of its former self. If there will not be any urgent government intervention, then we might as well bid it goodbye. For instance, as you approach Kisumu, it is difficult to tell where the landmass ends and the lake begins. What you see, is a large mass of green vegetation running into thousands of hectares. Operations at the Kisumu port have come to an abrupt standstill as the once busy port is completely blocked by the green water weed. Ships and other big water vessels that used to operate on Lake Victoria waters can be spotted grounded in the port surrounded by the weed unable to move. Water transport across the above counties is no longer tenable. The same applies to water transport between Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.
The once vibrant fisheries sector is on the decline. According to the department of Fisheries 2013 report, Kenya’s fisheries sector contributes approximately 5% of the country’s GDP. The value of fish export in 2012 was about USD62.9million.Total fishery production in 2013 amounted to 186,700 tons with lake Victoria contributing 94%.How a lake that contributed 94% of the total fish catch has been neglected by the Jubilee government leaves many questions than answers if not deliberate economic sabotage.
The water hyacinth has brought a lot of suffering to the millions of residents of these counties. Many have been forced to abandon fishing for fear of being trapped by the water hyacinth in deep waters. In addition, landing beaches have been invaded by the weeds making it difficult for fishing boats to land. There have been reports that fish stock is fast dwindling and so a number of companies have been given the green light by the government to import fish and its products from China in order to meet the local demand. This has in turn killed the local market as local fishermen are forced to sell their catch at a throw away price. Many have therefore been forced to abandon fishing and venture into farming which do not yield much due uncertainties posed by varying weather conditions.
Is there goodwill by the President to end this water hyacinth menace? The answer is no! If at all he had the goodwill, then the problem couldn’t have reached this unprecedented level. In his recent tour to Western Kenya, the President and his deputy blamed the under development in the region to the ‘Opposition’s bad politics.’ He said that for the region to develop, its people must ensure that they be in government next year. The same has been said of Nyanza region’s economic woes. The question is, should this population suffer because of their voting patterns? Lake Victoria is not a Nyanza or Western regions’ affair, but a vital national resource that needs urgent attention. Lest we forget, when he bailed out the coffee sector with 2billion in order for the farmers debt to be written off, was he not aware that Mt. Kenya region has been in government for quite too long yet the coffee sector has been ailing for decades? Were those problems too caused by opposition’s ‘bad’ politics?
According to Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project (LVMP), an initiative by Lake Victoria Basin Commission, the current cost of controlling water hyacinth on the Kenyan side of Lake Victoria is estimated to be USD10million per year. World Bank has been willing to fund the project so long as there are clear guidelines on how the money is to be spent.
There are success stories from Sino Asian countries that we can learn on how best we can control and eradicate the weed from our lake. The countries include Australia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines, India and Malaysia. There are three main methods available that can be used to control the weed. These include: manual, mechanical, biological and chemical controls. Manual methods involve hiring the population living around the lake and paying them to manually remove the weeds from the lake. Chemical methods involves the use of certain herbicides to kill the weed. This has challenges as it may lead to the banning of fish export to EU countries as was witnessed in 1999 where there was allegation that pesticides were used to kill fish for export. Biological control mainly involves the use of weevils Neochetina eichhorniae and the moth Sameodes albiguttalis to feed on the water weed. This control method has been successful in Australia.
Mechanical removal involves water hyacinth harvesters which the above counties just purchased. There have been small handicraft industries that have developed in the lake region that depend on water hyacinth as their main source of raw materials for their products. Some of their products include paper, furniture, handbags amongst others. The industries have gotten little or no support from the government hence many have been forced to close shops.
Bangladesh, faced with the similar problem, has come up with a number of projects to control the weed. The country has been producing paper from water hyacinth stems for some years. The water hyacinth alone does not make a particularly good paper, it has to be blended with waste paper or jute to get a good result. Similar small scale paper making industry have been established in Philippines, Indonesia, India, Malaysia and Australia where the governments have been very supportive hence ensuring their success.
Production of fiber boards has also been successful in Bangladesh with a key raw material being water hyacinth fiber and other indigenous materials. The country has developed a local manufacturing production plant for producing fiber boards for general purpose use and also bitumised boards for use as low-cost roofing materials.
Research has also found that water hyacinth can act as a natural purifier because as they thrive in sewerage, they absorb and digest waste water pollutants, thereby converting sewage effluents to relatively clean water. The counties bordering the lake can use the plants to treat their sewerage system. Meanwhile, the government should move with speed to declare the weed invasion in Lake Victoria a serious national disaster.
The Jubilee admiration has the responsibility to save the world’s second largest fresh water lake and by large, the economy of the Lake Victoria region counties.