Water hyacinth also known as Eichhornia crassipes, is an aquatic weed which has managed to wreak havoc on Lake Victoria. It is considered one of the world’s worst aquatic weeds because of its ability to spread rapidly. Research has shown that these weeds can double their mass in six to 15 days.

I have always wondered where this weed came from as it appears to have come out of nowhere and quickly covered the lake. However, I have come to discover that the weed actually escaped from an ornamental pond in Rwanda and into River Kagera which flows into a tributary of Lake Victoria. The weed was introduced from River Kagera into the Ugandan side of the lake in 1988, into the Tanzanian side of the lake in 1990 and finally into the Kenyan side in 1992. The rest as they say is history.

The importance of the lake cannot be understated as over three million people depend on its waters. It is also estimated that annual fish catch from the lake ranges from 400,000 to 500,000 metric tonnes which generates income of over USD 300 – 400 Million. Fishing directly employs over 100,000 people and over 2 million people are indirectly involved in the fisheries activities.

However, all this has come under threat as the water hyacinth continues to strangle the lake. This is because over the years, the weed has had an adverse impact on the lake’s biodiversity, fish breeding, access to fishermen’s landing sites, water supply, lake transport and hydro-power generation. The weed also provides a suitable habitat for vectors like mosquitoes leading high incidences of malaria.

This change in fortunes for the people dependent on the lake has had a detrimental effect on their incomes. This has seen some people turn to charcoal burning in order to make a living as they are no longer able to fish from the hyacinth choked lake. Predictably this has had a detrimental effect on the environment due to massive logging that has reduced the forest cover.

One resident from Karachuonyo in Homa Bay county, Donald Agwenge, saw how charcoal burning was leading to environmental degradation due to deforestation. Donald also wanted to create employment for the many people who had been rendered jobless due to the invasion of the weed. He came up with the idea of a water hyacinth briquette machine and recarboniser which could tackle the two challenges of environmental degradation as well as creating employment.

The only challenge he had was that he lacked the capital to embark on this project which would have a positive impact on his community. Fortunately, he got to hear about the Safaricom Ndoto Zetu initiative which seeks to support hopes and dreams that Kenyans have for their communities. Donald, promptly applied and to his surprise, the project was picked as one of those to be funded. His dream came true when Safaricom under the Ndoto Zetu initiative bought the water hyacinth briquette machine and recarboniser for him.

This is what Donald had to say when he was presented with the machine, “I want us to turn this weed from a curse it is into a blessing. I want to make Briquettes for cooking by carbonizing water hyacinth. The weed is available at our home in abundance. This will provide an alternative to the pollutant charcoal and reduce overdependence on wood fuel which has led to depletion of local forests. “

The briquette machine can be able to make over 50 bags of hyacinth charcoal per day, netting a cool daily income of Kshs. 50,000. A bag of briquettes will retail for Ksh. 800 as compared to a bag of charcoal which retails at Ksh. 1,500. This will act as a motivation for people to use the briquettes as opposed to charcoal which is not only more expensive but also leads to environmental degradation. Donald also intends to train members of his community on how to make the briquettes in order to create employment.

This project in my opinion is a clear embodiment of what the Ndoto Zetu initiative stands for, that is transforming the lives of the communities across the country for the better. Personally, I can’t wait to see the other life transforming projects under the initiative because as the saying goes “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”