Unless you've been on Lake Victoria lately, or here in Florida thirty years ago, it may be difficult to imagine a water hyacinth infestation: floating plants, growing to three feet high, bunched tightly by the wind, upwards of 200 tons of plant mass per acre, covering an entire lake or river shore to shore--even large boats can become immobilized. Certainly, fishing and other commerce comes to a halt. On Lake Victoria, more than once water hyacinth has clogged the intake pipes to the power station that supplies Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. No electricity to Kampala. In fact, much of the world's second-largest freshwater lake, which provides fish and accommodates commerce for Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, is socked in by miles and miles of extra-large "bull" hyacinths.
In the war against water hyacinths, officials have introduced Neochetina weevils as biological controls, and have hired a huge grinding machine to break up the gigantic mats. Depending on whom you ask, herbicides may or may not have been employed as well.
Then there's the Water Hyacinth Utilization Project (WHUP), a "sustainable use" project devised to exploit the silver lining of the infestation by using water hyacinths to create jobs. According to Ms. Carolyne Odhiambo, WHUP Coordinator, 60 workers, mostly disadvantaged women, are using the plentiful menace to produce chairs, tables, baskets and shades, paper, books, cards and gift items. WHUP is under the auspices of KICK, a non-governmental organization that aims to develop small enterprises, and is supported by the Department for International Development of Great Britain. Ms. Odhiambo provided us with these photographs of artisans and items made from water hyacinth.