Onyango, a local fisherman at Luanda Konyango beach, stood at the shores of Lake Victoria, his weathered hands carefully spreading out his fishing nets.
As he worked keenly untying knots on the net, he is heard speaking to himself with a heavy heart.
“Once, these waters were abundant with life, teeming with fish that sustained our families. Now, the hyacinth’s relentless invasion has choked the life out of our beloved lake, leaving us struggling to survive.”
This was after spending 16 hours on the lake without catching something tangible. Long hours on the lake were unfruitful, again.
His voice trembled with a mix of sorrow and frustration, as memories of bountiful catches and prosperous times filled his mind.
But now, the once vibrant lake mirrored the desolation in his heart, and he wondered if there was any hope left for him and his fellow fishermen.
For over a hundred years, the community around Lake Victoria has entirely depended on its waters both for domestic consumption and economic purposes.
However, the recent encroachment of the lake by stubborn water hyacinth has become a menace that has not only robbed them of their main source of but also polluted the lake waters.
Water hyacinth, dogging the freshwater lake has now turned out to be one of the biggest problems the lake has faced in recent years.
Lake Victoria is one of the most important fish water resources that accounts for nearly half of Kenya’s total fish production.
At Luanda Konyango Beach in North Kadem Ward-Nyatike Sub County of Migori County, the hyacinth effects have elicited heart-rending anecdotes about economic nosedives in the livelihoods of the local fishing community.
Fishing is the major activity on the small beach of Luanda Konyango but the ever-spreading hyacinth menace that rapidly reproduces and spreads has already taken away three-quarters of the Beach.
The once vibrant market beach no longer attracts customers and traders who used to flock to the beach in search of Nile perch, Tilapia, Mudfish and sardines commonly referred to as Omena.
The hyacinth has also blocked the accessibility of the beach and the main lake and rendered the beach water unusable for both human and animal consumption due to high pollution.
According to Onyango, the hyacinth has blocked accessibility of the landing site, forcing the fishermen to waste hours meandering through the 300 meters stretch to access the lake.
He states that during the windy days, the strong air stream and waves push their boats to the thick water vegetation of hyacinth and Papyrus weeds exposing them to the dangers of drowning.
This is as well as to the risks of being killed by the merciless sea creatures that hide beneath the densely populated vegetation cover.
The hyacinth effect has also destroyed fishing equipment, drastically reduced fish catch as well as inhabiting dangerous sea animals and reptiles like crocodiles and poisonous snakes.
“Sometimes we get stuck on the hyacinth plantation for hours because of poor visibility both from the landing site and the main lake”, said Onyango.
Onyango explained that the boat engine propellers that get damaged in the highly infected hyacinth waters have generated unnecessary expenses that eat on their hard-earned savings.
The reduced landing sites as a result of the water hyacinth has led to a reduction of the beach space, leading to a massive congestion of boats and that has made landing at any of the few operating beaches very unsafe to the fishermen.
The waters that the surrounding community largely depends on have also been polluted and the local population no longer has clean water for both human and animal consumption.
Alice Adhiambo, a fishmonger at Luanda Konyango Beach bemoans that in the last five years, fish caught has been diminishing as a result of water hyacinth.
“We used to catch very big fish five years ago when the beach was clear of any weeds but the effects of hyacinth have worsened the situation in terms of fishing hunting”, rued Adhiambo.
According to her, the once vibrant market beach no longer attracts customers and traders who lament that the catch is too small making it economically unviable to travel all the way 50 kilometers from Migori town.
No more safe drinking water
The menace has also denied the residents of Luanda Konyango clean and safer drinking water.
The residents have since been forced to purchase water from water points at a fee, further, denying them the little profits they collect from the lake.
However, Adhiambo says that the beach management units together with the local residents have taken an initiative to remove some of the water hyacinths to prevent further encroachment.
The uprooting of the water hyacinth is not an easy task as it is time-consuming, resource wasteful, and a disposal challenge.
“We decided to uproot some of the water hyacinths that is encroaching the narrow bath that we used to meander through to the lake as well as those that are growing near the landing site to ensure that our livelihood is protected”, said Adhiambo
The residents have called upon both the county and national government to step in and aid in cleaning the lake explaining that the presence of water hyacinth is detrimental to the fishing industry in the county.
However, Migori County Government has committed itself to helping the Luanda Konyango fishing industry restore the lost glory of the beach.
According to Migori Governor Dr. Ochillo Ayacko, the county will encourage all willing partners to come on board to deliberate on issues of water hyacinth, papyrus weed, and siltation in the beaches and come up with a lasting solution to restore water sanity.
Speaking during the donation of assorted fishing equipment to fishermen at Luanda Beach, the governor disclosed that agriculture and fisheries were devolved functions but funding was still a major challenge in realizing the blue economic agenda.
However, the governor outlined that already the county has introduced fish cage farming at Luanda Konyango to ensure that the local residents continue to earn a decent living from the fishing industry.
This is in addition to the already introduced two more fish cages at Muhuru Bay and Sori to help the fishermen in the county.
“I give an assurance to safeguard the safety of our fishermen and the fishing industry in the 27 beaches spread along the coastline of Nyatike Sub County,” assured the governor.
As the country moves closes towards Vision 2030, the blue economy potential of improved modern fish farming like fish caging, water sports, and water-based tourism will only be achieved if water quality can be realized.
The only one way to battle this is to ensure the lake is free from water menaces like hyacinth and siltation.