W2E has Double-Edged Solution to the Water Hyacinth Menace in Lake Victoria


Kisumu - Water hyacinth & Charcoal challenges and opportunities

A Blog written by Perminus Kariuki (COMSTRAT) and Victor Langenberg (Deltares)

It happened sometime in the late-1980s that a strange but beautiful flowering plant began appearing on the surface of Lake Victoria. Locals initially placed little concern to it, until the plant spread out fast, covering more and more surface of the lake. Water hyacinth had now become a part of the lake, often in a surrealistic way.

In the mid-1990s, the lakeside communities now considered the water hyacinth a number one threat to their livelihoods as the weed had covered the lake to a point of becoming almost impassable by boats. Local industries such as transportation, fishing and tourism were adversely affected by the fast-spreading weed. On human life, the deadly malaria disease was on the increase especially in Kisumu, as the mosquito spreading insects found pleasant habitation in the weed vegetation.

Experts were now brought in to help manage, mitigate and possibly eradicate the weed. The interventions seem to have worked in helping stem the spread of the hyacinth in the lake. Over the years however, these manual and scientific solutions have all failed to totally eradicate the weed, although the growth and spread seemed at lesser measures, the last years it is coming back in full force. In the meantime, the lakeside communities continue to wallow in poverty as most of their income generating activities heavily depend on Lake Victoria - in its natural form. Aqua life too has not been spared as most renowned fish species from the lake have either disappeared or have had populations curtailed by the hyacinth encroachment. With fish protein needs increasing this has already lead to the closing of most of the commercial fish factories surrounding the bay and the import of lower quality fish from other countries.

The Waste to Energy (W2E) project funded by VIAWATER, being implemented by SNV Netherlands Development Organisation and Greenergia K. Ltd. and Deltares, seems to give a ray of hope to these lakeside communities as it is modeled to give a two-pronged solution to the water hyacinth menace. The planned use of the hyacinth as the primary input for making non-carbonised industrial size briquettes and household size fuel-pellets as well as carbonized briquettes for household and institutional segments, will not only give impetus to increased harvesting of the weed in the lake, but also creates an innovative income generating avenue in the production and marketing of green fuel products.

[No stop and stare, stand up and speak out your needs!
And join and support us for providing income generating alternatives the lake people understand]

In Kenya, the W2E project could not have come at a better time. Since the beginning of the year, a myriad of measures have been introduced, controlling the production and use of popular types of fuels such as charcoal and fuel. Kitui County government in February 2018 banned the burning and transportation of charcoal within its borders. Before then, Kitui was a popular source of charcoal, majorly supplying the middle and low income charcoal consumers of Nairobi and surrounding environs. The county government cited environmental concerns in justifying the ban.

No sooner than the Kitui ban effects had settled in, than did the national government publish a ban on logging in all the country’s natural forests – a move alluded to environmental degradation concerns. These two developments have led to limited supply of charcoal and firewood to the high consuming areas, with ordinary charcoal recording the highest price of all times. In the busy towns of Nairobi, Nakuru and Kisumu, to sample just a few, prices have increased three-fold, and are still rising.

[Charcoal prices have tripled and woodland and forest cover in Kenya are at a historical low at around 8% of land cover. According to FAO, 2018.]

In consideration of these developments, an alternative and sustainable alternative to firewood and ordinary charcoal, as the one being mooted by the W2E, would be good news to the key consumers who include; households, restaurants, schools and other small businesses. Big manufacturing plants with furnace operations are direly affected by the ban on logging, as most use a mixture of firewood from harvested logs, mixed with burning chemicals, for required calorific values. A sustainable option is of key concern to such factory’s research and development departments. Here, water hyacinth briquettes and fuel-pellets could provide a lasting and affordable alternative.

W2E not only targets the big and medium sized companies. According to market estimates a bigger market seems to be the common households and owners of small businesses that use charcoal as a source of fuel. And these also consider it more and more necessary to have a healthier and sustainable type of fuel to replace the now costly and scarce ordinary charcoal. Notably, these consumers are also more concerned of their environment and as such would be affable to the W2E idea. Not to mention the health benefits that come with improved fuels and cook stoves.

Harvesting of water hyacinth, primary distribution channels as well as local retail points are quick wins for the lakeside communities in the W2E business model. Employment opportunities at the fuel production plants are expected to offer sources of livelihoods to the many unemployed youth, ultimately propelling economic growth in these lakeside counties and giving a valuable alternative to the currently unstable and unsustainable household and business fuel sources.