Artisan turns hyacinth, waste paper into cash machine
Posted Monday, June 11 2012 at 17:50
While East African countries are spending millions of shillings on eliminating the water hyacinth from Lake Victoria, one man is earning from the mess.
Michael Otieno, 32, blends the hyacinth with waste papers to produce paper products and to weave chairs and mats from the weed.
“When I started the business, I only had Sh10,000 but since then, the sales have increased more than eight times,” says Mr Otieno, a graduate of the Kisumu Innovation Centre.
“With knowledge acquired from the innovation centre, I ventured into the business of making paper products from hyacinth fibre which I have sold both locally and in other parts of the country,” he says.
He says the hyacinth fibre alone does not make good paper but when it is blended with waste paper “the result is excellent.”
Mr Otieno operates his business from his rental Migosi home.
Every morning when neighbours leave their houses to their workplaces, Mr Otieno also rides his bicycle to the lake to harvest water hyacinth.
“The procedure is simple. First, the fibres are chopped into smaller pieces and then mixed with the waste papers. The pulp is mixed with bleaching powder, calcium carbonate or sodium carbonate and then heated,” he says.
After heating, the pulp is mixed with wood glue and then placed inside a wooden trough filled with half litre of water. The mixture is sieved to form soft wet paper on top of the wooden container.
The wet paper takes four to six hours to dry depending on its thickness. He uses a machine called ‘celendering’ that he designed at the innovation centre to iron the particles of the paper to make it soft and easy to fold.
The refined product is cut manually into different sizes.
Mr Otieno makes folders, gift bags, A4 size papers for printing, photo frames, paper board and other woven products such as bowls, baskets and furniture, which he exhibits across the country.
“My most memorable moment was when I was invited to showcase my project at Ngong Racecourse exhibitions and made sales worth Sh80,000,” says Otieno.
For Mr Otieno, this kind of business allows artisans like him to earn by selling paper products from the weed.
He challenges the youth to think of other inventions to make ends meet without necessarily relying on employment in an economy where job creation is one of the toughest calls for policy teams.