Removal of water hyacinth could take longer, expert says

Tuesday February 7 2017

An aquatic weed harvester lies idle at Kisumu port on January 19, 2017. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

An aquatic weed harvester lies idle at Kisumu port on January 19, 2017. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By ANITA CHEPKOECH
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The removal of water hyacinth in Lake Victoria could take longer due to its enormous cover on the water body, an environmental expert has said.

The Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) Executive Secretary Ali-Said Matano said the government should have instead attacked the weed from its sources, which are the inlet points of the eight feeder rivers.

The weed, whose re-emergence has been billed as the biggest invasion since its first attack on the lake in the 90s, has covered the beaches of Kisumu, Migori, Siaya, Homa Bay and Busia counties, paralysing fishing, lake transport and tourism activities.

Dr Matano said with the affected areas estimated to be 60,000 hectares along the Winam Gulf, the three recommended methods of eliminating the weed are impractical.

The water hyacinth surveillance and control strategy advises how to manage the weed using a machines, manual removal and biological means, which involve use of beetles that attack the weed.

“The magnitude of the hyacinth problem is too huge to even attempt to remove it now. It has affected the entire Winam Gulf,” he said, adding: “The hyacinth is like floods. When the floods occur, there is nothing that can be done. You cannot mobilise people to fetch the water. It is best to strategise to prevent the situation before it even starts.”

The government and the Lake Victoria Environment Programme (LVEMP) Phase Two have been on the spotlight for failing to end the hyacinth menace despite receiving millions of shillings. A Sh81 million harvester machine they bought is lying idle at the Kisumu Port.

NOT COMMISSIONED

LVEMP National Coordinator Francisca Owuor, however, told Nation that the machine had not started working as it had not been commissioned.

Dr Matano said on the higher side, the machine can only harvest 10 hectares per day, of the 60,000 hectares. It would take about 6,000 days to exhaust the weed – more than 16 years.

“Other than the length of time, the business cost is so high. Calculated, it could exceed the budget of a whole county,” said the researcher.

On the option of manual removal, he said it takes 100 people to remove a single hectare of the compacted weed. There will also be need for certain equipment.

The use of beetles had been efficient in the past, controlling up to 80 per cent of the weed, but could not apply due to the advanced stage of the hyacinth which has mixed up with other weeds including hippo grass. Dr Matano said the option of beetles was no longer tenable at the gulf. He said the three options were, however, practical when done at the hyacinth resident bases before the wind blows the weed to the shores.

“There are resident bases where hyacinth is found throughout the year. Especially near the inlets like River Nyando and Kisat. Those are the first points that should be attacked. Attack it from the source through manual, mechanical and even biological means,” said Dr Matano.