HYACINTH UTILISATION AND THE USE OF WASTE MATERIAL IN THE PRODUCTION OF
ON THE WATER HYACINTH
Water Hyacinth is an aquatic weed that has featured
prominently in the media over the past decade. It can be identified by
its broad green leaves and purple flowers.
As it grows it forms a tangled web that has made it the scourge of East
African waterways such as Lakes Victoria
and Naivasha and more recently the Nairobi Dam-a centre for water
sports and recreation.
Water masses in the region have been under siege not from an invasion of
armies but from a biological invasion. The weed changes its
bio-diversity with devastating effects on the environment, as it
colonises a body of water.
In the case of Lake Victoria, these changes have in turn affected the
socio-economic activities of the people who rely on the lake for their
Fishing is curtailed while transport and trade have been inhibited.
There is no doubt that the water hyacinth will continue to affect the
lives of the millions of people who live around the lake.
Unless something is done, the losses in revenue from the fish industry
as well as the curtailment of trade may drive many of the poor people
who rely on the lake further into poverty.
Yet the water hyacinth is also the source of a
useful resource that can be harvested without damaging the environment.
Hyacinth Crafts a private registered business established in 1998 in
partnership with Kisumu Innovation Centre-Kenya (KICK) a local non
governmental organisation based in Kisumu, seek economically viable ways
of utilising the weed, in the production of a host of products.
These include furniture and household accessories, officeware, paper,
stationary and other gift items. Wrought iron, recycled wire and sheet
metal are incorporated into the products to enhance the aesthetics.
Utilisation of the weed was initiated by KICK under its Water Hyacinth
Utilisation Project (WHUP) established in October 1997.
During the inception stage, emphasis lay on changing the local
communities’ perception of the weed. Those displaced from fishing were
trained in harvesting and processing of the weed into string for weaving
purposes and pulp for paper making. As demand grew they involved their
spouses in the processing of string. The rope-weaving and paper pulp
processing sub-sector currently has more than one hundred people mainly
women involved in the various stages of production.
Unemployed youth were trained on weaving hyacinth
string around wrought iron and wooden frames and conversion of hyacinth
based paper into products such as books, cards, picture frames, photo
albums and stationary. Rigorous quality control measures were put into
place. KICK set up a showroom at its centre in Kisumu in order to
showcase the hyacinth products and gauge customer response. By the
second quarter of 1998 it became evident that there was demand for the
water hyacinth based products.
ZIWA creations, KICK’s marketing arm, had
hitherto established a niche in both the local and international market
as an innovative company selling high quality gift articles made from
recycled sheet metal, wire and wrought iron products.
ZIWA opted to market some of the smaller, lighter hyacinth products,
which fitted within her range. This was in keeping with her market
orientation as a one-stop shop in western Kenya, stocking unique gift
items produced by the local Jua Kali (informal sector).
Evidently, there was opportunity for a business
that could coordinate the production and marketing for some of the
bulkier products, thus Hyacinth Crafts came into being.
Hyacinth Crafts started off directly involved in the production
of furniture but eventually subcontracted parts of it, as the artisans
gained experience and confidence. As the producers became more reliable
other businesses were also spawned off KICK and tapped into the system.
These include the “ Hyacinth Ornaments Production Enterprise-HOPE”
and Hyacinth Creations. Hyacinth Crafts markets products both locally
and within the region, supplying outlets in Nairobi, Mombasa, Arusha and
Kampala. Hyacinth Crafts maintains a production base in Kisumu but is
working on replicating the project on Nairobi Dam. The product base has
diversified to include recycled sheet metal and wire products. These
help enhance the aesthetics of hyacinth products, create employment and
increase the overall marketability of products.
KICK’s role over the period has gradually shifted
to one of facilitating linkages as opposed to direct intervention. This
has resulted in businesses working directly with the producers, thus
significantly reducing the costs of the finished product.
INTO BLOOM: PROCESSING THE WEED INTO PRODUCTS.
There are a host of products made from the dreaded
weed. These are woven products which include furniture and household
accessories such as lampshades, napkin holders, breadbaskets, picnic
baskets, place mats, floor mats, office articles such as waste bins,
file holders, stack trays, pen holders, desk tidies, tissue boxes. The
paper range of products includes picture frames, photo albums,
scrapbooks, stationary, cards and gift items.
To produce the string that is woven round the
wrought iron or wooden frames to produce furniture and other items, the
plant is harvested and the leaves and roots cut off. The stem is then
split lengthwise, the number of pieces determined by the thickness of
string required, air-dried and treated in a salt solution-Sodium
metabisulphite. Two pieces are twisted into rope or three pieces used to
braid rope, which is then graded into different categories. The
communities living around the lake, mainly the fishermen who were
displaced by the scourge process the weed into string. They involve
their spouses, a number of whom are also unemployed as a result of the
weed. Previously they would process part of their spouses’ catch and
sell it in the market. For others, processing the fibre into rope is
something they can easily do alongside other domestic chores. This
increases their family income as they get to produce a lot more
The entire process is done by hand. The men harvest
the weed manually using Sickles and their canoes. They bring the
harvested weed onto the beach where their spouses take off the leaves
and roots and split the stems, treat the fibre and make rope. The
chemical- Sodium metabisulphite is sourced by Hyacinth Crafts which
meets part of the costs. The chemical helps preserve the rope against
fungus and mould. It is also used as a food preservative.
Hyacinth Crafts purchases the string from the Lake
shore producers per metre length. Hyacinth Crafts then distributes the
string to artisans, who weave it around iron, wire or wooden frames
produced by the local metal workers and carpenters to produce tables,
seats, magazine racks, file holders, lampshades, waste bins, footstools,
bread baskets, napkin holders and many more products. This group of
artisans (weavers) comprises the previously unemployed youth who
underwent the KICK training on weaving and business start up. They
subsequently trained others to assist them service large orders. They
currently number about 35.
The carpenters and metal workers are KICK clients
who at some point underwent training on quality control, product design
and development as well as business development practices such as the
importance of record keeping, stock control, market information. KICK
has since its inception encouraged its clients to use wood harvested
from commercial plantations in western Kenya. The carpenters use mainly
pine, cypress and blue gum.
Each artisan is paid per piece of quality work
done. This system enhances productivity and reduces operating costs.
This is due to the fact that one earns more money by making more
products as opposed to a daily or weekly wage where one earns a flat
rate. In addition the artisans are paid subject to availability of work
thus overheads are greatly reduced. This mode of production allows for
specialisation in the different parts
of the process such that high quality components are produced at a
faster pace. All artisans therefore operate as independent SMEs to which
hyacinth crafts subcontracts orders. Most of them run their own
workshops and take orders from a good number of customers.
It is evident that there are three groups of
artisans involved in the production of hyacinth woven products:
Lakeshore communities who harvest and process the weed into string.
Jua Kali carpenters, tinsmithers and metal workers who produce the
frames and decorative metal work
artisans who weave the products.
The entire process is generally environmentally
friendly save for the banging (sound pollution?) the metal workers and
carpenters have to endure within their Jua Kali set up and disposing off
the remains of welding rods and metal off cuts which are considered
worthless by the artisans. The latter litter the environment and can be
harmful. However these materials would rust back into their natural
form-iron ore such as laterites in the soil.
For paper production, the water hyacinth is
harvested and the plant cut up into small pieces. It is then boiled for
approximately 8 hours or until the fibre breaks down, usually over an
open fire. Dry papyrus is used for fire usually at the beaches though in
many cases charcoal is used. Wood ash is used in place of sodium
bicarbonate to hasten the cooking process. In some instances the
hyacinth is allowed to rot hence breaking down the fibre naturally. In
this case energy is saved in that this particular fibre does not require
cooking. The boiled fibre is then pounded in a mortar and pestle to get
hyacinth pulp. The pulp is then dried and sold by the kilo.
Paper producers, 30 in total, who also operate as
independent entities, purchase the dried pulp from the Lakeshore
communities who prepare it. They then produce paper from a mixture of
this pulp, waste paper pulp processed from office waste paper and other
waste materials like kitchen waste, for instance, carrot, potato and
onion peels as well as other natural fibres such as hippo grass and
papyrus. The paper can be put to a variety of uses or converted into
interesting products such as photo albums, picture frames, gift boxes,
greeting and calling cards, scrap books, document wallets, memo pads,
bookmarks, pen holders, carrier bags… the list is endless.
Recycled wire and sheet metal decorations are
blended in with the finished products. This adds onto their uniqueness
not to mention creating employment for this group of artisans who
collect used cans and scrap wire and recycle them. Used cans would
otherwise litter the environment.
The artisans numbering 20 were also unemployed
artistic youth trained by KICK who went on to train others as the volume
of work increased. Currently more than 50 youth are engaged in this sub
In addition to items that are used to decorate the
paper products, the artisans produce a number of functional items using
recycled sheet metal and wire. These have done very well in the export
market and comprise 80% of Ziwa’s annual sales. The products include
egg cups, candle stands, soap dishes, waste bins, desk tidies, diskette
holders, file holders, pen holders, stack trays…
Hyacinth Crafts remunerates paper producers and the
artisans on a piece rate basis.
The producers involved in paper production are
communities who prepare the pulp
producers and converters
wire and sheet metal artisans.
Paper is also processed entirely by hand, though
concern may well be raised over the use of charcoal in boiling the fibre.
The amount of charcoal needed to process each batch of pulp is quite
large and over the long term, this use of charcoal may not be
sustainable, and detracts from the positive environmental aspects of
paper making. It would probably be a better idea if alternative sources
of fuel were used. Other SMEs could be developed around the production
of an alternative fuel supply for the pulp process especially in view of
the fact that the water hyacinth can be used to produce biogas.
FROM DOOM TO
BOON: EMPLOYMENT CREATION.
Currently there are over one hundred people
involved in one or more stages of production of water hyacinth products.
These include the lakeshore producers, the weavers, paper producers and
the Jua Kali artisans. Some were previously unemployed, others had been
displaced from their means of livelihood and yet others were running
their businesses but their incomes were low due to quality problems and
lack of access to markets.
Hyacinth Crafts works closely with KICK, with the aim
of increasing productivity and thereby profitability, in the process
improving the standard of living of those displaced from fishing and
lake trade by providing them with an alternative source of income, as
well as accessing quality products to market and improving SMEs bottom
uses different marketing channels to sell products. These include; craft
fairs and exhibitions, sale through outlets in the East African towns,
direct sales and marketing. In April 2000 at a 4-day exhibition
organised by Hyacinth Crafts and supported by KICK, the businesses that
participated including ZIWA, HOPE, Hyacinth Creations, Papercrafts and
Hyacinth Crafts, realised sales and orders in excess of Kshs. 300,000.
Hyacinth Crafts is currently servicing an order for 700 waste bins, for
one of the leading hotels in Kenya and on a smaller scale furniture for
individuals and smaller hotels.
Hyacinth Crafts has been conducting training
programmes at the Product Design and Development Centre aimed at
creating awareness on the usefulness of the weed and for purposes of
creating capacity to utilise the weed on Nairobi Dam. Recently Hyacinth
Crafts was invited to the International School of Kenya during their
environmental awareness week, to share experiences and train the
students on using the weed for paper making and recycling of sheet metal
and wire. Hyacinth Crafts has enrolled with Junior Achievement to
provide Leadership Skills training to high school students in Nairobi.
Hyacinth Crafts aims at sharing experiences and
achievements with the youth in order to assist them set career goals
early in life.
Hyacinth Crafts will continue to partner with KICK
in exploiting the potential of the handicrafts business in western
The water hyacinth shifts with changes in the wind
patterns. This coupled with the mechanical harvesting of the weed in
Kisumu and successful biological control measures, has resulted in
difficulties in obtaining sufficient raw material and has forced
producers to travel over long distances in search of the weed.
Understandably, the fishermen who had been displaced by the weed were
happy to be able to engage in their means of livelihood once more
especially in view of the fact that the ban imposed on Kenya’s fish
export to Europe, has been lifted. For those who have been earning an
income from the weed, it is appreciated that the weed is destructive and
the general feeling is that they are pleased to be part of the solution.
Given that people are now generating incomes from
hyacinth product related activities, should the weed be grown for waste
water treatment and then used for fibre?
Some people have argued that utilisation of the
weed is too limited to contribute its control. There is the question as
to whether the utilisation of the weed is in conflict or is compatible
with attempts at controlling it. We postulate that the utilisation of
the invasive weed is a form of control that is economically sustainable
as it fosters employment and income generation.
We advocate an intergrated means of control as any
one method may not be very effective. For instance shortly after the
American firm contracted to mechanically harvest the weed expended a lot
of time and money in clearing the Kisumu part of the Lake, the invasive
weed is back and is spreading at an alarming rate. Mechanical
harvesting, Biological control and Utilisation would all contribute
towards the sustainable control of the dreaded weed.
The water hyacinth has caused problems for the
communities around the lake, by changing their natural resource base and
affecting employment in certain sectors. However, technical innovation
and entrepreneurship have been used to turn the problem into an
advantage. Not only is utilisation of the weed a means of contributing
to its control, but also some of those displaced by the scourge have
been able to earn an alternative income. In addition employment has been
created and income generation enhanced.
Hyacinth Crafts and KICK are at the centre of a
network of MSEs, training and linking together groups of artisans and in
the end produce quality products for the home and office, in an
environmentally sustainable manner.
Hyacinth Crafts is interested in the impact of its
network of MSE sub contractors, and is committed to promoting awareness
among its artisans on the positive and negative impacts their activities
have on the environment.