Monday, March 11, 2013


I dunno whether this is a true instance of OCD or my procrastination merely disguising itself as something new. Perhaps, I just need to be positive and think of this as the inspiration that I've been expecting for such a long time. This post is of course a redux to my previous post about all things Water Hyacinth.

I guess it might be the hopelessness I see in that situation. I didn't mention it last time around, but I remember that trying to conduct independent research was really tedious, which is what you'd probably expect it to be; but, one particular low point was hearing people dismiss my ideas without even seriously considering them.

I got the same exact kind of vibe from the scientist, Dr. William Ojwang', who around the 3:43 mark of the video discourages using water hyacinth for economic ends. I actually did a background check on him and fish (management) is his 'bread and butter', so of course he understands things from a fish economics point of view, and that's fine...BUT that doesn't mean that it's the only right way to achieve the desired goal.
I believe that a lot of the opposition I felt when I was doing my research was from people who were of a similar mind as the scientist, which in retrospect is understandable because it would be useless to sink an already established industry (fishing) for a fledgling field (phytoremediation).

Anyway, that was 6 years ago; but a recent YouTube search saddened me because it brings up stuff like this: Lake Victoria & Water Hyacinth.
6 years down the road, I can't believe we're still stuck in the same mess! There's money to be made off this weed and it's totally a win-win situation. Going through my notes, and from web searches, I can see that there's more people invested in small start-ups that are affiliated to this little venture and who could scale it up to something meaningful in a hurry:

  1. The Artisans wish to operate with bulkier volumes of the weed;
  2. I learnt of Green World Technologies, a Kenyan company, which produces green charcoal (a solution to sustainable energy needs in a developing economy )
  3. Medium & High Density Fiberboard can very well be made from this weed. If that isn't a boon to the construction industry, then I don't know what is.
  4. Specialty crafts paper manufacture
* I'm still not sure about water hyacinth with regards to the perfume industry. I found a site speaking about fragrances that have 'notes' of water hyacinth, but I'm inclined to think that it may merely be 'industry-speak', and not really an actual ingredient. (would be worth a try to distill the living daylights out of that massive bloom)

All in all, if we were able to take that massive amount of biomass and readily convert it into rope, fiberboard and green charcoal, it would be a win-win for everybody and every industry involved.

Good thing about the way my mind works is that I START WITH NEGATIVES FIRST. So when, for instance, Dr. Ojwang' mentions that harvesting and working the weed would cause it to be spread to other areas, I can see his reasoning. BUT the solution is simple: from watching the video is seems like the portions of the lake shore affected by the weed are for the most part desolate because of the weed's adverse effects. Therefore, why not just build a factory/processing plant right there close to the affected shore. That way, the weed doesn't get tracked to any pristine waters because any adherent seeds can merely be washed off and remain within the affected waters.

Drying, splitting, and collection can also be done rapidly at the processing factory, to yield 4 useful components: Leaves, Stems, Flowers & Roots. These can then be distributed to the relevant parties dealing with them

  1. Stems (Artisans, Green Charcoal producers, Fiberboard plant)
  2. Leaves (Research lab)
  3. Flowers (Essential oils extractor)
  4. Roots (Research lab)
Then of course, at the end of the line, we can't forget that the weed makes quite a good soil long as it hasn't hyper-accumulated any heavy metals.

So, that's what's on my mind. In closing, I'm reminded of something a Kenyan friend of mine mentioned a while back. He was talking about Kenya's lack of vision and how we needed someone to show us the way, even with regards to implementing projects. He basically said that even if we were given 1 million Shillings (USD 12,500) for a project, we wouldn't know what to do with it.

And of course, this was the first thing that sprung into my mind. I'm not business-savvy, but at least I'd spread this between the parties that have the ability to scale it up. So once I get home, the hit-list will look something like this

  1. Kisumu Innovation Centre Kenya (KICK)
  2. Green Water Technologies
  3. Great Lakes University, Kisumu (GLUK)
  4. Jani
*Gonna need to find a Fiberboard and Craft paper manufacturer.

Let the work begin.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Transition and an idea reborn

It is indeed a time of great transition for me. Just graduated from med school this past January, and in three weeks time I'll be headed home to make something useful of myself (finally!) Transition isn't something that I tend to deal well with, but at least I've had this period of downtime to just sort myself out...and not beat myself for my current bit of procrastination

I'm just trying to hold myself to small steps in terms of positive things I can at least achieve before I have to leave; and in this regard I'm allowing myself to wander a tad. Don't get me wrong, medicine is my forte; but there's nothing wrong with having something else on the side that I feel I can do just as well, and achieve some social good in the process (more likely pro bono).

I recently re-read my independent research paper on Water Hyacinth that I wrote quite a while back (finished it in 2006), and ended up surprised that it inspired me to look into those "fledgling" ideas afresh. As a piece of independent research, it felt wasted at the time because I couldn't even get it published back then, but thanks to I have it online and from the site analytics I can tell that it has received quite a few views.

I think what actually makes the paper more relevant at this particular juncture is the fact that the water hyacinth problem never really went away. The embedded video is proof of the extent this natural threat poses for common folk who have to derive their livelihood from Lake Victoria (Kenyan side).

It saddens me that 7 years down the line, people can't really find a decent way to deal with the weed; but I think I'm more surprised that people can't see all the money that can come from exploiting this beautiful resource (...and let it be known that I am probably the least business-inclined individual you'll ever encounter!).

Guess if no one else is pursuing this, I might as well do it myself. The research from the paper is sound, it just needs more players to push it through. Basically going to need to involve a university (Great Lakes University), the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, the Kisumu Innovation Centre, Kenya (KICK) and to get grant money to start the work.

Knowing what to do is one thing; the logistics is quite the other...and all this while I'll be trying to study for my medical board exams and sort other things out. God willing, things work out. This weed will still be around for some time to come, so maybe it's about time we made bigger moves.

God Bless