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Jan 23, 2019

Converting the water hyacinth menace into animal feed

It is debated how exactly the water hyacinth plant came to Lake Victoria, but evidence suggests it arrived due to human activity in the 1980s. Given that it is not native to the region and therefore has no natural predators, the plant has proliferated, causing many serious problems for the local communities.

First of all, an infestation of water hyacinth blocks boat access, impeding fishing and transportation activities. This cuts off vital income sources for all included in the fish supply chain. Moreover, the weed creates an excellent breeding area for mosquitoes, which leads to an increase in diseases such as malaria. By deoxygenating the water, the plant also smothers aquatic life- further interfering with the fish market. 

Dealing with the water hyacinth menace has become a seemingly insurmountable challenge for communities living near the lake. However, entrepreneurs such as Jack Oyugi of Biofit have been coming up with innovative solutions to this issue.

(Related article: Producing paper from hyacinth)

Water hyacinth as animal feed

Oyugi is a biotechnologist who, in 2012, was trying to devise alternative types of animal feed. At the time, he was in a dairy farm in Mombasa testing out hydroponics as a means of replacing the typical soya and sunflower seeds used in animal feed- which are quite expensive in the Kenyan market. However, he found the hydroponics process to be too costly and subsequently began studying water hyacinth. It turned that, during dry spells when there were no other greens left to eat, animals would result to eating water hyacinth.

After research and development of processing the weed, Oyugi was able to make a product that was appealing and safe for livestock. Upon testing it both at the University of Nairobi and the Netherlands, and then doing a pilot study on animals in the Homa Bay region, he discovered that the feed increased milk production by 20% per day per dairy animal and still was able to reduce the cost of the traditional soya and sunflower seed feeds by half.

Oyugi was able to obtain a partnership with SNV in the Netherlands and, as a result, upscale to reach 1,000 dairy farmers in Meru- and hence Biofit was born. At the same time, he brought on board 3 other partners: a veterinarian, a livestock nutritionist, and a crop scientist.

Oyugi was also among the 1,000 entrepreneurs of the 2018 Tony Elumelu Foundation, where he got mentorships, trainings, and seed capital to upscale production.

Biofit helps the community while tackling water hyacinth

Since then, Oyugi has been able to create even more employment. Biofit now consists of 8 full-time employees and 4 casual ones, in addition to the 20 fishermen with whom they work. Seeing as the water hyacinth impedes fishing activities, Oyugi has contracted them instead to obtain the water hyacinth for him- in essence, creating a new job where an old one has become obsolete. Furthermore, the enterprise boosts women’s incomes through hiring them to do sun drying of the plant.

They also plan to focus their efforts on targeting small-scale farmers in order to empower them as well.  

Biofit has been a client of KCIC for about seven months now. One benefit they have received so far was a sustainability training organized by KCIC staff, in which they learned how to incorporate such concepts as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into their business model and supply chain analysis.

Future plans for Biofit

As for their short-term plans, Oyugi has obtained a leadership and innovation fellowship in the U.K. for one month. Under the Newton Fund, Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Kenya National Innovation Agency, he will be spending his training learning the ins and outs of how to run a business.

In the long run, Oyugi envisions his enterprise as being a leading company in Africa, producing single cell protein feeds for animal and human consumption. He would like to expand beyond Kenya and incorporate more types of organic waste and plants.

Advice for young entrepreneurs

Being a 27-year-old entrepreneur, Oyugi is an inspiration for other young people seeking to start a business.

(Related Article: The journey of an entrepreneur)

“For young entrepreneurs,” he advises, “you need to realize that the journey is not as easy as it seems. Youth oftentimes think of making big money in a short time, which is not usually the case. You have to be patient.”

Furthermore, he says, “Young people tend to think that if they tell someone their idea, it will get stolen. However, if you do that, you might die with your idea still inside of you. So try to do whatever you can with your idea, however small it might be. As you dig deeper into it and continue upscaling, any potential ‘copier’ will find you when you are already way ahead.”

 

By: Alise Brillault

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