May 9th, 2018 – Kisumu, Kenya
Author: Noah Kozminski
In a lively first day of activities, the Green Briq team heads for the banks of Lake Victoria, hunting for information about the invasive aquatic flora hyacinth, aiding the team’s primary objective. “We turn invasive species into sustainable fuel sources. Here in Kisumu specifically, we’re taking water hyacinth and turning it into fuel briquettes,” explains team member Annaliese Long. With their research with HESE this summer, the team is aiming to take on several issues — invasive hyacinth in the lake and unavailability of sustainable biomass fuels — by using existing technology to create an innovative solution.
The team’s goal for the day: Talk to local fishermen and cooperatives to gain a better understanding of how hyacinth affects the area. The investigation begins at Dunga Beach, a major fishing port in Kisumu. Discussions with fishermen and ecotourism/conservation group Ecofinders Kenya offer insight into the inner workings of the trade: Cooperatives own the boats, and sell fish caught by locals. The impact of hyacinth is also detailed — when in bloom, the remarkably dense vegetation clogs the bay, restricting water travel and drastically altering the aquatic ecosystem. Hyacinth covers the surface of the lake, absorbing oxygen and depleting populations of highly sought-after Nile perch and tilapia, while providing a haven for less-valuable catfish and lungfish, which thrive in the low-oxygen environment.
Following their research on the beach, the Green Briq team takes a boat ride to see aquatic hyacinth up close and get a taste of local fishing culture. Out on the water, they witness the issues of hyacinth first hand, catch a glimpse of a languishing hippo, and are treated to a fisherman’s tale of an isolated village of cannibals living on the far side of the lake. Back on land, the team hears more about local uses of hyacinth, which is hand-twined into rope by local artisans, as well as being used in a variety of commodity goods.
The team also looks into the other part of their overall objective; the local use of biomass fuels. Due to extensive deforestation, Kenya has banned the production and distribution of charcoal. However, many locals continue to produce and use the fuel. The Green Briq team’s initial investigations offer mixed explanations regarding the legality and economics of this issue, but these findings will inform their future research goals.
With this array of new information and a host of great experiences, the team now prepares for the next step of their efforts: Producing a sample hyacinth briquette using locally sourced materials and tools.