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Water Weed Proves Lucrative for Benin Startup

With its succulent leaves and violet flowers, water hyacinth may look beautiful, but it is in fact deadly. The invasive species, introduced to Africa from South America in the late 1800s, has wreaked havoc by clogging up lakes and waterways, destroying ecosystems and putting livelihoods at risk. Recent data on the plant’s economic impact is lacking but in Benin, an infestation during 1999 was found to reduce the annual income of 200,000 people by about $84 million. That’s why Green Keeper Africa, a Benin startup founded in 2014, is trying to reduce the weed’s spread by ripping it out of waterways and using it to create a fibrous substance that can help mop up oil spills. The company has two main goals, says Geneviève Yehounme, its commercial director. “First, to take out the plant from the environment. And second, to provide an absorbent that could be used to control industrial pollution,” she told CNN Business. The startup sources its water hyacinth from Lake Nokoué, in the southeast of the country, where the plant “is a real nuisance to local communities,” says Yehounme.