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By Vincent Mumo

Did you know that the water hyacinth is far much reproductive than the crops that have been carefully cultivated by man under the ideal conditions of fertilization, irrigation and pest control? in lake Victoria, the water hyacinth does more harm than good as it depletes bio diversity by out competing all other species growing in the vicinity by destroying aquatic life, depleting oxygen, reducing water quality, harboring pests and vectors, blocking waterways hence hampering Agriculture, fisheries, recreation and hydropower. Entrepreneurs in Kenya are sustainably managing the environment by utilizing water hyacinth to make paper, bio gas, organic fertilizer and a substrate for mushroom production.

Michael Otieno, harvesting hyacinth from L.Victoria before taking it to the production site.

Michael Otieno, the proprietor of Takawiri Enterprises began making paper from hyacinth 10 years ago after receiving training from Kisumu Innovation Centre Kenya (KICK). Using the plant, Otieno makes alternative carrier bags, business cards, envelopes, seasons cards. Otieno has perfected his daily routine of going to Lake Victoria in search of raw material. After harvesting the hyacinth he then cuts into small pieces before boiling it to soften it. He established Takawiri Enterprises Limited to supplement his family’s income and create job opportunities for his community. Currently he has employed 30 people, 5 of whom are permanent employees; an initiative that has transformed the lives of Kisumu residents. Following the ban of plastic bags by the Environment Secretary Prof. Judy Wakhungu on 28 August 2017, Takawiri has repositioned itself in the alternative bags market.


Takawiri displaying some of his paper products made from hyacinth.

Takawiri got a startup capital of USD 60,000 grant in 2014 from National Environment Trust Fund (NETFUND) to facilitate its operations. The grant has enabled the firm to purchase a pulping machine which has boosted production capacity from 400 bags to 1000-2000 bags per day all courtesy of NETFUND.

Hyacinth has not only been a blessing to Otieno but also his community. Edward Orato a local artist who runs a curio shop in Kisumu City is one of the customers of Takawiri papers and uses the products for his artistic work. He uses the product for his artistic work. He describes the paper made from hyacinth as “inexpensive, easily available and has a unique texture which gives his painting a competitive edge in the market.”

Takawiri got an opportunity to showcase his project at the African Summit on Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ASENTI) 2016 themed “African Rethinking Innovation” hence positioning his products in the global market. With support from NETFUND he also showcased at the eco-friendly alternatives Expo held at the KICC Nairobi on August 24, 2017.

Takawiri Founder Michael Otieno showcasing his paper products at the Eco-friendly bags Expo at KICC on August 24, 2017

The finished paper is used to make business cards, envelopes, gift cards, Christmas cards, envelopes, gift cards, Christmas cards, notebooks. The firm’s current customers include corporates like Jarida, Ajiri Tea, KCIC, publishers and NETFUND. Takawiri also targets customers in events like weddings, academic institutions like Universities, graduation ceremonies and, secondary and primary schools examination periods. In 2016/2017, NETFUND estimated the initiative turnover to be KES 250,000 in 2015 and KES 450,000 in 2016. His sales turnover have also increased to 7.4 million KES per year.

Michael Otieno showcased by NETFUND at the 1st Annual Africa Conference on Social Entrepreneurship (AACOSE) at Tangaza University College on 22nd and 23rd September, 2017.

In a good month Michael gets orders of 8,000 carrier bags each going for KES 75 to KES 150 depending on size. He is currently working on overcoming the challenges of raising capital to expand his enterprise and increase production to meet the current demand for eco-friendly bags in the country.

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