Monday, 17 September 2007

Water hyacinth

It sounds lovely and the flowers look lovely, but it can be a pest, as many people in tropical and sub-tropical areas will know. It can grow extremely rapidly to form mats which may be as much as two metres thick.

It has caused a problem in 2005 on Lake Victoria in both Kenya and Uganda. It was controlled using mechanical and biological means, with a 90% success. Given that it spreads quickly and also floats around, it's not surprising that it once again is causing a problem.
The problems it causes are:
  • Hindering water transport
  • Clogging various water supply systems
  • Harbouring various diseases
  • Causing water to evaporate nearly twice as quickly through transpiration
  • Impeding fishing
  • Unbalancing the ecosystem and reducing biodiversity.
Possible solutions:
  • Biological control using a variety of insects and fungi. This method can take a long time to have an effect.
  • Chemical control but this may harm the environment.
  • Physical control by removing the weed - only suitable for small areas
Another approach altogether is to find a use for the plant. Possibilities, some realised, some still being investigated:
  • Paper - the fibre needs to be blended with waste paper or jute to produce a reasonable quality (Bangladesh, Philippines, Indonesia, and India)
  • Fibreboard - for general purposes indoors, and a bituminised version for roofing is being investigated (Bangladesh)
  • Yarn and rope (Bangladesh)
  • Basket work (Philippines)
  • Charcoal briquetting - under investigation (Kenya)
  • Biogas production - under investigation (Bangladesh)
  • Water purification
  • Animal fodder (China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand)
  • Fertiliser (Sri Lanka)
  • Fish feed - Chinese carp, tilapia, silver carp, and silver dollar fish will all eat water hyacinth.
If a commercial use can be found for the weed, then perhaps it can be kept under control on Lake Victoria. With so many potential uses, surely it's just a matter of time.
Sources: IRIN and PracticalAction

A very recent (January 2016) TED talk by Achenyo Idachaba covers some of the issues and offers one solution.  Achenyo Idachaba is the founder of MitiMeth, a social enterprise which aims to transform the ecological problem into enployment and products in Nigeria.


  1. That's impressive, already so many possibilities for use of it. Strange how something so beautiful can be to harm. Well, too much of anything can.

  2. Yes Captain, too much of anything can be bad, so if they do manage to find a really good use for it, it would be wonderful.

  3. Oh, they should find a good use for it, I am sure there should be some...
    it is such a beautiful flower!

  4. Thanks, mar. Yes it is beautiful, compares well with many we pay for.


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