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A Hated Pest, Water Hyacinth is Proving an Unlikely Ally for Women in Bentiu

It is everywhere around Bentiu, covering the vast floodplain in dense green patches. The difficult and dangerous job of collecting firewood falls to women and girls, who must venture long distances to find trees jutting above the surface. But hyacinth is safely and easily gathered near the water’s edge using long rakes, and dried by the sackful under the sun. The stalks are placed in a sealed metal drum and smouldered over a fire for about 20 minutes, then mixed with water into a paste and shaped into briquettes. The process requires little training or specialised equipment, said Simon Riak, who oversees the initiative funded by the World Food Programme (WFP). It is hoped that once at scale, hyacinth briquettes could sell for about half the price of charcoal and provide much-needed income for the women who sell them. At the moment around 300 people, mostly women, are involved in producing the briquettes and encouraging their uptake among the community. To overcome initial scepticism, public demonstrations were held. Tea traders and roadside restaurateurs were asked to test the briquettes to prove they could match the burning power of regular fuels.