Water hyacinth despite being a menace has over the past few years proven to be a useful resource. Hyancinth has been used to make furniture, baskets, produce energy in the form of biogas and briquettes and act as organic fertilizer. The sea weed whose origin is South America found its way into Kenya in the late 1980s. It has brought challenges in access and navigation in affected water bodies despite the myriad of solutions introduced from clean up efforts to hyacinth eating insects which have all been in futility.
Fishing has been paralyzed due to inaccessibility especially in Lake Victoria, leading to losses in hundreds of millions of shillings in revenue. Being the main economic activity in the communities living around the lake, some have resulted to alternative sources of income. Counties that have been affected by the hyacinth include Nairobi, Nakuru, Kisumu, Migori, Homabay, Siaya and Busia.
Takawiri Enterprises in Kisumu County found a business opportunity in the weed. The company has been making paper from hyacinth since 2011. The company founder Michael Otieno saw the potential in making paper from the weed. With the help of fishermen along the shores of Lake Victoria, hyacinth is collected and transported to his premises. The weed is converted into pulp and used to make paper. Michael notes that it takes 8 hours to dry the paper in the sun.
“Once the paper is dry, I pass it through a calendaring machine which presses the paper for a smooth finish,” says Michael.
Some of the products made by Takawiri from the hyacinth paper include book covers, notebooks, seasonal greetings cards, business cards, name tags, folders, gift bags, lampshades, envelopes, hard covers and labels. The paper is affordable as compared to others in the market.
The business has not been without challenges. When the weather is not sunny, the paper takes longer to dry. In order to increase his production capacity, he would like to invest in a solar drier. “With a solar drier, I will be able to dry the paper in 2 hours,” avers Michael. The company has also been facing challenges in pushing their product into the market. This has forced him to only make products on order. Some of his customers include book publishers, Ajiri Tea, Jarida Craft, Kick Trading, traders at the Maasai market, Hyacinth Craft, book shops among others.
Takawiri would like to upscale their production capacity. Michael has been able to mentor his wife into the paper production process. Most of the work is done manually and as the business grows, he hopes to mechanize the process.
By Mercy Mumo