Hyacinth chokes trade in Lake Victoria

MV Orion II prepares to dock at Kisumu port on January 27, 2017. Vessels now take far much longer time to dock owing to hyacinth.  ONDARI OGEGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP
MV Orion II prepares to dock at Kisumu port on January 27, 2017. Vessels now take far much longer time to dock owing to hyacinth. ONDARI OGEGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Businesses depending on Lake Victoria are counting heavy losses thanks to resurgence of the water hyacinth.

Among  those affected are transport, fishing and tourism operators.

Fishing vessels marooned by the choking weed are now a common sight at the lake.

Businesses on the shores of the lake in Kisumu, Homa Bay, Siaya, Migori and Busia counties are almost grinding to a halt.

The weed, which has literally been on the rampage in the past three months, has also been blamed for numerous accidents.

Facilities whose operations have been crippled include the Kisumu port, and fish landing sites.

Access to tourist attraction areas and islands inside the lake has also been greatly hampered.

Kisumu Port manager Mwalimu Disi said movement of boats and fishing vessels has been constrained by the hyacinth carpet.

The port usually receives and processes over 4,000 tonnes of goods transported to other East Africa countries including Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda daily but this could be halved due to navigation challenges.

“The port currently receives a maximum of one ship weekly, down from four vessels it could accommodate in a day. The decline in the number of ships docking at the port means business is at its lowest,” said Mr Disi.

The ships mostly transport fertilisers, cooking oil, soap and sugar to neighbouring countries.

Heavy fuel consumption

Vessels are also recording heavy consumption of fuel trying to navigate through the thick swaths of the weed, a situation Mr Disi said discourages businesses.

“We have seen vessels coming here but with difficulty. We had one that took almost 12 hours to dock at the port in a distance of less than four kilometres owing to the heavy presence of the hyacinth,” Mr Disi said.

The pier has also been operating below capacity due to neglect and low traffic, following the termination of the Nakuru-Kisumu railways in 2012. The facility has a potential to handle 60,000 tonnes of cargo.

Kisumu assistant director of fisheries Robert Wanyama says fishermen have not been spared by the navigation challenges as they have to row their boats as far as possible in order to find new fishing grounds.

Farmers practising caging aquaculture in Siaya County said they lost nearly 100,000 fish in three days after the cages were covered by the hyacinth choking fish.

“Initially the hyacinth was just at the shores but due to the heavy winds, it has covered the 150 cages erected in the lake,” said Mr Ken Omondi who is the secretary of fishermen in the area.

With each mature fish retailing at Sh150, the loss is estimated to be Sh15 million.

“The problem is alarming and the population around the lake must now face the grim reality of tough life due to the weed,” said Mr Omondi.

Mr Wanyama said the extent to which the weed has slowed down fisheries production has not been properly quantified.

“This is because fishermen are flexible. They move from infested areas and go deep into the waters,” Wanyama said.

“The cages that are affected are those that are set up illegally without our approval. Otherwise those which are on the right places are not affected.”

Completely paralysed are the lake tourism activities that include boat racing, sports fishing and tour of the water resource.

Fun events, which usually attract hundreds of tourists daily, now hardly has any visitors. Tourists are afraid of getting trapped by the weed.
The dearth of tourists has deprived hundreds of operators of their daily bread.

Boat racing

Kisumu County Executive Committee member for tourism, Dr Rose Kisia said boat racing has collapsed.

“We have motorboats at Hippo Point, Lwang’ni and other beaches that usually charge up to Sh7,000 per two-hour trip. Hundreds of those who earn a living from it are crying.”

The magnificent view of the lake, seen from strategic tall building in Kisumu Town, has also been dulled by the obnoxious weed.

“A tourist visiting Kisumu for the first time will not find it attractive at all,” said the county minister.

The hyacinth, whose invasion was first reported in the lake in the early 90s has resisted various attempts to control its spread.

There have been claims that some of the organisations have been misusing millions of shillings meant for the removal of hyacinth.