Combatting Invasive Weeds

Dr. Seleshi Yalew in Ethiopia

Dr. S. Yalew is Dutch-Ethiopian and works at the Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development of Utrecht University, he also works as a guest researcher at the Water Systems and Global Change Group of Wageningen University. With the help of CD4D, he went to Ethiopia to help combat the manifestation of problematic water weeds.

For my PhD study at the Technical University of Delft, I focused on integrated land and water resources management in the Upper Blue Nile River in Ethiopia. The research required me to travel there frequently and especially to Bahir Dar, a city by the largest lake of Ethiopia named Lake Tana. As a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, it is not only beautiful but also ecologically intriguing.

Unfortunately, Lake Tana and its surrounding environment is infested by water hyacinth, an invasive water weed. What were once magnificent fishing and entertainment areas of the lake are now covered with water hyacinth, one of the fastest growing and expanding invasive plants known.

Its infestation led to several negative consequences on the local population and the aquatic ecology. First, the weeds block access to land for boats used mainly for fishing. Second, water hyacinth also creates a breeding ground for disease carrying insects such as mosquitos (Malaria) and snails (Bilharzia). Third, it also reduces the number of essential nutrients for fish in the lake. The removal of this weed proves to be a battle as it has been problematic for more than five years.

Being highly aware of the need for knowledge and capacity-building, I was excited to come across the IOM CD4D opportunity. I volunteered for this program and once accepted, I took leave from my job in the Netherlands to go to Ethiopia for three weeks. As a water expert and native Ethiopian, I was eager to help and completed two tasks while I was there.

I held a one-week training about water resources modeling to PhD and MSc students, as well as, staff members at the Bahirdar Institute of Technology.


Training at Bahirdar Institute of Technology

By carrying out a field study, I collected data to develop a tool that assists the local environmental officers for water hyacinth control. In order to build a sustainable relationship, I consulted with local stakeholders on creating and maintaining a sustainable collaboration between my University in the Netherlands, the regional environmental bureau in Ethiopia, and the Global Coalition for Lake Tana Restoration (GCLTR) in the USA.

The collected data will be used to aid in developing a tool that can accurately identify whether the water hyacinths are expanding or shrinking in the affected areas. When this tool is fully-functioning, it will be useful to local decision-makers as they will get weekly updates of the changes via email. I am planning on returning to Ethiopia in 2019 once I finalized the project here in the Netherlands. I will then provide technical and theoretical trainings to the regional environmental bureau on how to use this tool.

I am grateful for the opportunity to aid my country of origin through the CD4D project, which is able to facilitate knowledge transfer from professional diaspora communities to their homeland. I believe this to be very valuable. Moreover, I am still in touch with my colleagues there and we are all optimistic about our long term collaborations.

When I asked him how he felt about the lake and the weeds, his response was: "I don't understand why people hate the water hyacinths, they're beautiful!"
Little boy at Lake Tana

One day, I was out on the lake and found myself talking to a boy, aged about 8, who was tending to his herd of cows. When I asked him how he felt about the lake and the weeds, his response was: "I don't understand why people hate the water hyacinths, they're beautiful!" As amused as I was, I took the opportunity to teach him about the negative aspects of the harmful vegetation, and how this affects his herd. I realized the knowledge gap among the population living there, and about the weeds' consequences. For that reason, I believe knowledge transfer to be essential – it is necessary for the local population to be aware the damages invasive weeds such as water hyacinth can cause to their environment.