Baringo lakes on the deathbed after attack by water hyacinth

Lake Bogoria during better days, with a flock of flamingoes chuckling over the water. Today, the invasive water hyacinth is choking the lake’s shoreline. PHOTO | correspondent

What you need to know:

  • Fish production dropped from 482 tonnes in 2014 to 192 tonnes in 2016, due to the weed and discharge of effluent by flower farms.

Baringo County is staring at an estimated annual loss of Sh5 billion following the invasion of the killer water hyacinth on Lake Baringo, and toxic discharge of effluent by some flower farms.

Worst hit are fishing and tourism industries which depend on water resources for economic revenue.

Lake Baringo is staring at a catastrophe, with fish production dropping from 482 tonnes in 2014 to 192 tonnes in 2016. In 2014, the county generated Sh148 million but the amount dropped to Sh78 million in 2016.

A fish trader at Kampi Samaki near the lake, Ms Esther Talaa, said business is on the verge of collapse due to scarcity.

“I have been in this trade for over 20 years now. But it is now going down due to shortage of fish in Lake Baringo. We used to buy tilapia at Sh50 each but it is now selling at Sh150, which is too high for us. I used to earn more than Sh50,000 but the figure has now reduced to a meagre Sh5,000. We used to be more than 30 traders in the business but most of them have quit,” said Ms Talaa.

Baringo County director in charge of fisheries, Mr Dickson Ongwae, attributed the shortage of fish in the lake to water pollution, climate change and hyacinth invasion. The weed is spreading quickly from the southern part of the lake.

According to the director, massive growth of water hyacinth, which is doubling in mass every month, could choke the lake.

“The weed restricts water flow, blocks sunlight from reaching native water plants and depletes oxygen in the water, which often chokes aquatic life,” said Mr Ongwae.
The director said efforts by the county government to remove the weed manually have not been successful.

“The weed is spreading fast. Unless a remedy is found soon, those who depend on the lake for survival, including fishermen and traders, will be condemned to poverty,” said Mr Ongwae.

He said he had also received reports that some flower farms upstream were discharging chemicals into the lake, adding that this has affected the breeding of some fish species.

A spot check by the Sunday Nation revealed that at several points where tributaries flow into the lake, the invasive water hyacinth is choking the shoreline.

Also affected is Lake Kamnarok in Kerio Valley, which has been invaded by the water hyacinth.

READ: Nairobi firm eyes Lake Victoria weed for electricity production

The lake was once prided as the second largest ecosystem in Africa after Lake Chad, but it is now on its deathbed due to the water hyacinth.

During our tour last week, the lake was a pale shadow of its former self, with locals struggling to pull out the intrusive weed with their bare hands.

A visitor to the area can be forgiven for mistaking the lake for a farm, with the noxious weed in its flowering stage.

Residents who used to depend on the lake for fishing and domestic use are now disillusioned.

“The government should help us regain the lost glory of the lake, just like it has done in some parts of the country. The water hyacinth is now hideout for crocodiles, which have been killing our goats and are posing a danger to school children,” said resident Nelson Chebet.

A boat that had been bought by Baringo County government is no longer in use as it cannot penetrate the choked lake. The lake has an area of 87.7 km2.

“Many youth are idle and should be hired to rid the lake of the aggressive plant,” said Silas Somek, another resident.