By Kimbowa Richard, Regional Coordinator (LVEMPII Civil Society Watch project)
Visiting Kisumu City in Kenya today, one is welcomed by the ‘green mat’ that covers several parts of Lake Victoria in this area –that is reportedly ‘attracting’ tourists. The water hyacinth weed seems to have re-surged with vengeance after the late 1990 collective action by Governments and communities to act on it. Kenya’s Star Newspaper (August 30, 2012) has reported that hundreds of Homa Bay fishermen have been rendered jobless by the invasion of the water hyacinth as it has covered large parts of the lake making it difficult for fishermen to navigate and catch fish. The fishermen have now resorted to other jobs like washing cars in the lake.
"For the last one month, I have not been able to fish. I now wash cars to earn a living," said John Otieno (one fisherman quoted by Kenya’s Star Newspaper) said. Similar experiences might be occurring in Tanzania in Uganda, affecting socio-economic activities like water transport, fishing and water provision.
It has been reported that Phase I of the Lake Victoria Environment Project (LVEMP I) which ended in 2005 succeeded in the removal of the water hyacinth to a tune of between 80% and 90% on the lake, but when the project ended, there was no sustainable manner of continuous removal and control of this invasive weed
Hence, the fundamental issue is that effective control of the water hyacinth will not be successful with ‘knee-jerk’ reactions like mobilising resources and being seen to act when public outcry arises like in the above case, or until donor support comes by. Instead, Partner states need to have long term control measures that can secure that the level of water hyacinth is kept to manageable limits (in ecological terms). These include: incentivized community involvement in its manual removal; Partner states need to have long-term support beyond (donor support like LVEMPII); local authorities that benefit from Lake Victoria (as a source and sink) should be compelled to buy-in to support water hyacinth control by availing resources for manual, biological and mechanical removal to levels that do not interfere with livelihood sources of the of their inhabitants.
One interesting way is to promote community initiatives that can sustainably turn the menace into useful products across all the affected communities as has been done already by Luzira prison - Uganda and Kisumu Innovation Centre – Kenya (KICK) - making excellent handcrafts and furnishings. Such water hyacinth use initiatives that have been tried out should be part of the long - term strategy to control this menace. For example Keith Lindsey and Hans-Martin Hirt documented a book titled: 'Use Water Hyacinth! A Practical Handbook of Uses for Water Hyacinth from Across the World"
The point is that a multi-actor, long term strategy is the key to control the proliferation of the water hyacinth in Lake Victoria under current efforts (like Phase II of the Lake Victoria Environment Project) and even beyond.