A group of rural women from Odisha has come out with a revenue-generating model as they found a solution to the nagging problem of water hyacinth that water bodies across the country face.

The initiative, backed by the Odisha Livelihood Mission, was taken up in Duggal village in Puri district in October 2021. The women from the village harvested the weed, which grows very fast and covers the surface of water bodies, and the biomass produced was used to make high-quality compost by mixing it with paddy straw and cow dung.

“The combination of known science of composting and cutting-edge AI-based tools aims to turn the challenge into an opportunity,” Sreenath Dixit, Global Research Program Director, Resilient Farm and Food Systems, ICRISAT, said.

“This simple technique helped local women to become self-reliant by turning simple waste into wealth,” an ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics) executive said.

ICRISAT scientists are in the process of developing digital tools and techniques to monitor this weed using satellite data.

“The World Environment Day 2022 calls for living sustainably in harmony with nature, where efficient use of resources leads to development,” he said.

“Our researchers have taken this as a challenge and come up with many solutions. One very interesting such solution is the potential of the proliferating weed named water hyacinth and how this waste can be transformed into wealth,” Aviraj Datta, Scientist, ICRISAT Development Centre, said.

“Utilisation of water hyacinth biomass through aerobic composting technique has potential for wide-scale adoption and impact,” he said.

Spreads very fast

That Puri district in Odisha alone have over 2,000 water hyacinth-infested water bodies shows how rampant is the weed.

The weed spread very fast, covering the surface and denying oxygen to the organisms in the water body.

Research shows that 10 water hyacinth plants can reproduce 6.55 lakh plants occupying about one acre of the surface in just eight months.

Each water hyacinth plant generates about 4700 seeds that remain active on the lake bottom for 20 years.

In order to harvest the weed on such a large scale requires on-ground data.

“Digital tools have the potential to assess details about the biomass quantity expected during different seasons on a large water body on a real-time basis,” he said.

Weed Watch project

ICRISAT, along with its partners University of Stirling (Scotland), University of Strathclyde (Scotland), National Institute of Plant Health Management (NIPHM, Hyderabad), Sanatana Dharma College (Alappuzha, Kerala) and CSIR-Central Scientific Instruments Organization (Chandigarh) is working on the project to develop real-time monitoring of the weed.

The Weed Watch project uses freely available multi-spectral satellite data for mapping the area under water hyacinth.

The commercialisation of water hyacinth biomass can boost alternative livelihood opportunities and can be used to create a wide range of products and art crafts. The potential use of AI tools and data captured via drones, satellites, and MPro app developed by ICRISAT ensure optimum use of water hyacinth biomass.

“It will provide a better understanding of the impact of water quality on water hyacinth infestation and estimation of the growth rate and nature of the mat,” Srikanth Rupavatharam, Senior Scientist (Digital Agriculture) at ICRISAT, said.