Even as the fishermen of Lake Victoria curse the invasion of the water hyacinth, which has reduced their catch, the Dala Rieko Women’s Group is busy counting its blessings instead.
With the help of a Norwegian investor, the group is transforming the Dala Riek area by making and supplying compost manure made out of the weed that has threatened to choke Lake Victoria.
Margaret Odolla, the caretaker of the group that comprises six other women’s organisations says that they are turning the weed into a gold mine.
“Almost all the stories that have been told about water hyacinth have demonised it and sought to show that nothing good can come out of it,” she told the Business Daily last week. “We chose to see this as an opportunity to tap, and four years later we are a happy lot.”
Armed with boots, wheelbarrows and other implements, members the six women’s groups — Ayado, Mabinjo, Tenants, Ong’ielo, Kokise and Raliew — venture into the lake early in the morning to collect the weed deposited on the shores each day.
But they do not all wade into the water. To avoid fatigue, they work in turns, with one group collecting the weed and the other moving it to the sites where they prepare the manure.
When the Norwegian investor, Tor Rafoss, is available, he helps them ferry the weed using a lorry, making their work easier.
Mr Rafoss initiated the idea in 2008 to empower women on the shores of the lake whom he said were bearing the brunt of poverty as they suffered sexual and other forms of abuse in the hands of fishermen.
“There was this sex-for-fish practice where women were compelled to engage in sex as a condition to access fish even if they had money,” said Mr Rafoss. “My motivation then was to offer an alternative source of income from locally available resources.”
The women’s group run the project but he occasionally visits them to check if they are still on the right track. The site where the manure is made is barely 100 metres from the lake and has 10 trenches where it is processed.
Mrs Odolla says that the timing is done in such a manner that there are always five trenches that have ready compost for use at any time.
“We ensure that our stocks do not run out by organising the trenches in a manner that there is uninterrupted supply to our customers,” she said.
The villagers, says Mrs Odolla, only get the surplus manure because it is meant for women’s groups that form the community based organisation (CBO).
The orchards within the precincts of the CBO are extremely healthy. Other crops are equally doing well and the women say that hunger that was hitherto a big problem to them is a thing of the past.
Mrs Jenipher Omondi of Mabinjo Group attests to this. “We are well fed by this project. We also earn some income from the surplus produce we sell,” she says. Some of the crops grown here include maize, pawpaw, vegetables, bean and brinjals.
Other than cultivating the common farms that belong to Dala Rieko, each of the group members who are more than 200 are entitled to a regular free supply of the manure for their individual farms during the planting season.
A walk through some of the farms that have benefited from this innovation gives a picture of well-nourished crops that are doing better than if not equal to those supplied with artificial fertiliser.
Nyanza provincial agricultural officer Joash Owiro says that compost manure made from the aquatic plant contains all the essential minerals that crops require for growth and better yields.
“It is a rich source of plant nutrients and a farmer does not even need to do top dressing as it has large quantities of nitrogen,” he said.
The success of the project has made some fishermen to abandon their nets for the initiative.
“Instead of using their boats to fish, they harvest water hyacinth. They help us collect the plants from the deep waters to the shorelines,” says Mr Andrew Menya Onywera, the CBO’s farm manager.
Mr Dan Okoth, a former fisherman, now uses his boat to collect the weed.
“Many were the days I would go without fish but since I shifted to collecting hyacinth, my family is way better off,” he says.
Mr Okoth earns an average of Sh1,000 for about 10 trips he makes daily.