UNTANGLING A PROBLEM
Aquatic weeds such as the water hyacinth, which MitiMeth uses, pose a major challenge to local communities and have been a target of government initiatives to stem the damage they cause for some years. Their extensive, knotted root systems tangle together – ‘the roots marry themselves!’ says Achenyo – and clog waterways, which are a key transportation network to inland populations. They also deplete nutritional resources in their surroundings, leading to a drop in the fish population, which impacts food supplies and livelihoods for riparian communities, who are reliant on fishing. The big question I sought to answer was how to turn this adversity in our midst into a form of prosperity.
Achenyo hit upon the idea of transforming the environmental menace into beneficial use through research she undertook, which showed that communities in East Africa and Southeast Asia afflicted by water hyacinth infestation had harvested the weed and transformed it through weaving into marketable products. ‘I thought to myself, this transformation certainly can be done here in Nigeria.’ Visiting the Sabo and Ojurin Bodija communities in Ibadan, she befriended a couple of artisans who had experience in weaving doum palm and rattan. She worked with them to develop the company’s first products – a table tidy and a wastebasket: two fitting products to make from a tangled weed!
INDIGENOUS AND ECO-FRIENDLY
Since then, Achenyo has used her computer skills in a different context – developing an online presence for the company with its web store, the online marketplace Etsy, as well as on the social networks. To date, the majority of MitiMeth’s sales have been domestic but she also has her sight set on the international market. MitiMeth's best-sellers are Home Accents, Kitchen and Dining ware, Fashion Accessories and Stationery. which can be purchased directly on MitiMeth’s site. ‘There are very few locally handmade products branded as eco-friendly, so MitiMeth has a first-mover advantage in building an indigenous, eco-friendly brand.’
So far, MitiMeth has trained over 350 people from more than twenty communities to harvest water hyacinth and weave the weeds into functional products. Essentially, imparting life-long skills to the communities and teaching them to 'fish for life'. Looking ahead, MitiMeth plans to train several more communities across Nigeria and beyond and establish upcycling micro and small enterprises specialized in fiber transformation.