The innovative solutions from a social and environmental crisis.
Around the world, there are billions of plants growing around or on top of lakes, lagoons and freshwater bodies in general. At first glance, you could say that it is a miracle of nature, because after all, it is a natural cycle, but, what if I told you that there is a plant capable of completely drying up these freshwater bodies? And what if I told you that this is affecting one of the most vital resources for human life, which is water? Well, actually it does exist, and it is called Water hyacinth.
The Water hyacinth (called by its scientific name, Eichhornia crassipes) is one of the most invasive species worldwide. The combination of its enormous capacity to reproduce and grow rapidly, in addition to its great capacity to absorb water, poses a great risk to bodies of water; only 2.5% of the water available on the planet is freshwater, which is the only type of water that can be used for human consumption.
Water hyacinth can dry up entire bodies of water, causing oxygenation problems in them and preventing the passage of sunlight, causing the so-called “plankton problem”. This is what FiberGood seeks to reduce, the negative impact caused by this invasive plant.
But why is FiberGood a Crisis Oriented business? A crisis-oriented business is created as an entrepreneur’s response to explicit requests from the market/community to solve a social problem, and the water hyacinth problem, in addition to being environmental, is a major social problem.
The water hyacinth problem affects communities living near infested lakes and lagoons, as most of these people depend on these waters for economic activities such as fishing, tourism, and agriculture. The plant’s infestation can cause a decrease in water quality, obstruction of waterways and irrigation canals, loss of habitat for aquatic fauna, and a decrease in biodiversity in the affected area.
That is why FiberGood emerged as a response to explicit requests from the affected communities, seeking to reduce the negative impact caused by water hyacinth to our lakes, rivers and lagoons, transforming the stem of the plant from being an invasive species to a multipurpose ecofiber.
This case study will address in detail how FiberGood is a crisis-oriented business, and how it seeks a solution to the water hyacinth problem.
1. A) History and origins of the Water hyacinth
Since 1800, the water hyacinth has been spread from South America, in the Amazon basin, to other parts of the world, including different countries of this continent (Navarro and Phiri, 2000). The mechanism of spreading of the water hyacinth from one area to another could be either intentionally or unintentionally distributed by man. This invasive weed has been spread from one continent to another, from one country to another and from one body of water to another, mainly by the action of man, bird feet and rivers (2003; Van Driesche et al.,2002; Téllez et al., 2008).
The water hyacinth, also known as Eichhornia crassipes, is an invasive species that has been spread throughout the world, especially in warm and humid regions. This aquatic plant is native to South America and has been introduced in many other parts of the world as an ornamental plant or to control soil erosion. However, the water hyacinth has become a plague in many areas, causing significant damage to the environment and local economy.
One of the main problems caused by water hyacinth is its ability to grow and spread rapidly. The plant is extremely hardy and can survive in very low light and nutrient conditions. Once established in a body of water, it can cover large surface areas, reducing the amount of light and oxygen available to other aquatic plants and animals. This in turn can lead to the death of other species and cause an imbalance in the entire ecosystem.
In addition, water hyacinth can clog canals and waterways, which can affect navigation and the transport of goods and services. It can also interfere with hydropower production and crop irrigation. In some cases, water hyacinth can also be a public health problem, as it can act as a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other insect vectors of disease.
It can hinder navigation and fishing in freshwater bodies. By covering the surface of the water, it can impede access to boats and hinder fishing, which can have a negative impact on the economy and the lives of local communities that depend on these resources.
Water hyacinth can also negatively affect water quality. The plant can accumulate heavy metals and other water pollutants, which can cause health problems in humans and other animals that consume the plant or contaminated water. In addition, water hyacinth can alter water pH levels, which can affect aquatic life and fish populations.
1. B) A global crisis-oriented project
As we know, the water hyacinth is a highly invasive species that brings with it a variety of negative impacts on our marine ecosystems. This type of weed can be found on any continent in the world due to its uncontrolled growth. Day by day, the water hyacinth is becoming a very serious problem in African and Latin American countries, as stated by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations in 1996.
Water hyacinth may grow in the surface of a freshwater body, blocking the free passage on sunlight and then reduces the oxygen levels, also, according to various studies conducted between 1996 and 1999, this weed can produce allelochemicals, frustrating the growth of marine life and reducing the marine biodiversity.
The way this weed can grow so fast, has affected almost half of the existing freshwater bodies in Mexico. Thousands of communities suffer with the consequences that water hyacinth may bring.
For example, in Veracruz, Mexico, there is a community living around a freshwater body “La Espumosa”, which was a source of food, water and transportation to the habitants of the community. Sadly, the water hyacinth plague, among other types of marine weeds, invaded the wetland, causing all kinds of marine life to decrease and the freshwater body itself started to dry up. The plague has invaded so much of this wetland that neighbors who live nearby do not want to get involved nor clean and take out the water hyacinth, as it requires a lot of time, physical work and it can be very dangerous.
In West Africa, it has infested rivers and lagoon systems linking adjacent countries, and interferes with water use, fishing, and transport, sometimes, cutting off entire villages. As we can see, the same kind of problem is happening in Africa, where it has become one of the major floating waters weed on the continent, affecting fisheries and boat traffic.
Our response to this social problem is crisis-oriented, because, if our project reduces the spread of the water hyacinth plague in a specific area, it can help address the water hyacinth crisis and reduce the associated global damage.
Also, the fact that this is a crisis-oriented project means that we need to make a change as soon as possible, as it was mentioned before, the water hyacinth has already started to damage some water bodies around the world, and according to climate change models, it will continue damaging and expanding its distribution to the freshwater bodies if the global temperatures keep decreasing.
2. C) The impact of the solution
How has the water hyacinth been controlled?
To combat water hyacinth, several measures have been implemented, including manual removal, herbicide application, and the introduction of predatory species. However, these measures can be costly and difficult to implement over large areas. In addition, some of these solutions can be detrimental to other aquatic species and to the environment in general.
There are different methods for their control, among the three main ones are: biological control, mechanical control and chemical control, each of these has advantages and disadvantages in their application.
Biological control: It consists of attacking the water hyacinth with six arthropods and three different types of fungi, which prevent its propagation, this is the only economically sustainable method, without collateral effects on our health or negative impacts on the environment; however, it is only effective in the maintenance stage, that is, when the aquatic body is free or with little water hyacinth, it is not ideal if it is excessive (Vong, 1998).
Mechanical control: In Mexico, the National Water Commission (CNA) carries out an annual shredding program in which the water hyacinth is shredded and sent to the bottom of the aquatic body, which increases the biochemical oxygen demand due to its high phosphorus and nitrogen content (Vong, 1998). (Vong, 1998).
Chemical control: Based on herbicides such as glyphosate, aminotriazole and diquat (containing carboxylic acid base as the main element), which, although effective in different environmental conditions, require high inputs of labor and mechanical equipment, which is costly and not very feasible, in addition to environmental modifications and physicochemical parameters of aquatic bodies (Vong, 1998). (Vong, 1998).
Although all these methods are good in the short, medium and long term, the best option is manual water hyacinth extraction, which is the most effective method for its control, especially in aquatic bodies with high density of this kind of weed, although it is slow and requires strength for this, it allows the use of the plant in different contexts and applications, and does not present pollution problems or affect the ecosystem.
It is at this point where Fibergood comes into action, our proposal to clean the aquatic bodies and create an ecofiber becomes the best option to take advantage of a resource that is extracted with capacities comparable to those of other materials such as plastic.
Our main advantage is the control/extraction method, since it allows us to take advantage of the plant in a 100% range, as it does not suffer any damage or physicochemical alteration, which makes it ideal for use in different fields, thus contributing to its reduction and obtaining a beneficial use for all.
Our goal is to reduce the water hyacinth population in water bodies around the world by maintaining and caring for freshwater aquifers to ensure their future existence.
In conclusion, we know that the water hyacinth as a weed is present in some lagoons worldwide, mainly in freshwater bodies, causing damage to the marine ecosystems and as a reducer in the use of fresh water. It also represents a problem in communities dedicated to fishing, since this plague invades a large part of the freshwater marine ecosystems, making fishing difficult for different settlers who are dedicated to this for their own consumption or as an income.
Besides that, it has demonstrated a capacity of reproduction, adaptability as well as nutritional requirements and resistance to the different environments of this plague, this proves that its eradication level is very low because a great number of methods have been tested to dominate the growth of this weed.
The reduction of this type of plague presents a high cost that not everyone can afford, mainly the communities that live near the freshwater bodies with this plague, since they are a part of the affected populations.
Can we do something about this type of invasive plant? FiberGood has demonstrated to be able to transform the water hyacinth into a fiber destined mainly for the manufacturing and textile industries in order to create a commodity that allows the replacement of fibers whose main components are petroleum based, creating a sustainable and environmentally friendly product.
In conclusion, our goal in FiberGood is to reduce the population levels of the water hyacinth in freshwater lakes, lagoons and rivers, by creating a commodity for industries, forming a value chain where different communities are benefited with a common goal that is to safeguard the marine ecosystem and help the environment in exchange for monetary remuneration.
We are not just assuming the consequences of this social issue, but we are observing them and trying to learn from it. FiberGood was born as a result of the desperation for stopping or at least decreasing the negative impacts that the water hyacinth has done. FiberGood is a business based on a crisis-oriented solution.
Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. (1996). Strategies for water hyacinth control. Report of a Panel of Experts Meeting. Charudattan, R., Labrada, R., Center, T. y Kelly-Begazo, C. https://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/agphome/documents/Biodiversity-pollination/Weeds/Docs/Water_Hyacinth.pdf
Malik, R. (2007). Environmental challenge vis a vis opportunity: The case of water hyacinth. Environmental International. 33 (1), 122-138.
Rodríguez, L., & Jiménez, F. (2018). Impacts of Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) on Biodiversity: A Review. Revista MVZ Córdoba, 23(1), 6376-6391.
Vong, Y. M. (1998). Método de control de lirio acuático y equipo que aplica dicho método. Querétaro: Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo Tecnológico en Electroquímica, S.C. https://cideteq.repositorioinstitucional.mx/jspui/bitstream/1021/295/1/MX199705049%28A%29_METODO%20DE%20CONTROL%20DE%20LIRIO%20ACUATICO%20Y%20EQUIPO%20QUE%20APLICA%20DICHO%20METODO..pdf