This could be the final solution to water hyacinth

Wednesday April 21 2021
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Solomon A. Mutagaya

By Solomon A. Mutagaya

Earlier this year, there was a reported incident that triggered investigation by Ugandan based scientists about the possible cause of death of hundreds of fish washed up on the shores of Lake Victoria. Talking to Xinhua, a Chinese news agency, Joyce Nyeko the acting director of Fisheries at the Ministry of Agriculture, mentioned a likelihood that the death was caused by many factors, one of which included water hyacinth. 

Fisheries contributes 12 per cent of agricultural GDP and 50 per cent of animal protein consumed in Uganda yet water hyacinth still lingers as a problem to the country’s waters contributing to slowed development given its destructive and obstructive nature arising from increased evapotranspiration reducing the water table, physical obstruction of water transport, increased costs of fishing operations resulting from loss of nets and boat engine breakdowns, reduced fish reproduction, being a breeding ground for many disease causing micro and macro organisms, among other factors. 

As noted in a report on cost effectiveness evaluation of water hyacinth control methods by Stephen Lwasa and Edison Mwanje, such effects in turn affect both national economy and the health status of the lakeshore residents. 

Over-time, a number of biological, chemical, manual and mechanical possible interventions have been employed by government, East African Community together with international partners in retaliation to the after-effects of this water weed.

 Infact, the government even set up a Lake Victoria Basin Commission Secretariat which birthed the Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project Phase 1 that attained a great-short-lived success of removing 80 per cent of water hyacinth by 2005. As mentioned in the Secretariat’s 2015 report however, the resurgence of water hyacinth was attributed to factors such as inability of countries to provide funds to continue fueling the weed’s monitoring and control, their lack of well-equipped special units to deal with the weed and lack of regional coordination in place to coordinate partner states initiatives. 

This, in my opinion calls for a more radical and methodological approach that’s self-sustainable, cost effective but environmentally friendly for this problem to be addressed for good. Installation of a biodegradable plastics plant taking water hyacinth as raw material.

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Five years ago, I met a bright innovative young man, Odongo Mike, a chemical engineering finalist then at Kyambogo University whose undergraduate research focused on production ofbiodegradable plastics using water hyacinth. 

In his research, when PHP that fermented the water hyacinth formed in the cytoplasm of the bacterial cells was isolated and characterised, it showed a maximum yield of 40.8, 39.9 per mg cell dry matter respectively after a fermentation duration of 360 hours.

Mike’s personal research proved so pragmatic to a country like Uganda with dire needs of industrialisation that come with both an urge of zeroing down the non-degradable waste levels but yet getting rid of an item that has proven catastrophic to the ecosystem whilst using it as raw material. 

If the government were to setup a pilot plant for biodegradable plastics, this would in turn improve the livelihoods of the lakeshore residents who have for long seen the water hyacinth as a curse, seeing it as a source of income this time. 

In any case, comparison reports on environmental economic analyses and control methods have proven that mechanical method of collection of water hyacinth are most recommended for use given cost effectiveness (C.E) ratio of 0.016 beating other control methods of manual, biological and chemical whose ratios are 0.116, 0.208 and 0.299 respectively, according to Stephen and Edison’s report. 

Government should note therefore, that as much as it seeks solace from international partners to address in-house problems, it’s effort to encourage science and technology among the youth bred a generation of bright, innovative young scientists whose ideas could be key to unfolding the answers to the country’s greatest puzzles although  they have not made it to the spotlight.

Mr Solomon A. Mutagayais a chemical engineer, quality assurance engineer at kcl group 

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