Alappuzha: In the serene heartland of Kuttanad, which unfolds a mesmerizing landscape of lush green paddy fields and captivating backwaters, a young woman is championing a cause close to her heart - the battle against the growing menace of water hyacinth. Kalyani B, an MSc scholar at the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (KUFOS), Panangad, has chosen her wedding to highlight the challenges posed by the invasive water hyacinth that has silently crept into the idyllic backwater of Kuttanad.
The handmade invitation cards are crafted using paper made out of water hyacinth, adorned with beautiful images of the vibrant lavender flowers of the weed. She has ensured her role in each stage of the making of the wedding invitation cards, from collecting the weeds to drying them and processing them into paper.
“I have grown up seeing the water hyacinths posing a threat to the region, where a majority of the residents are farmers, depending on their produce to sustain a living. Many a time in my neighbourhood itself, the weed resulted in heavy losses to the farmers. In fact, after the 2018 floods, many paddy fields were rendered unusable for years altogether,” Kalyani, daughter of C Anil, a State Water Transport Department staff, and Bindu, an employee of the Ayurveda Medical College, told Onmanorama.
“The invasive weeds have to be removed manually, an immensely time-consuming process, or using JCBs, a costly affair. Even then, they sprout back in no time. It also leads to the depletion of dissolved oxygen in the water, affecting aquatic life in a major way. I wanted to do something out of the way to highlight the threat. I chose the most important event of my life to champion the cause,” she pointed out. During her BSc studies at Sanatana Dharma College, Alappuzha, she did her final year project under Professor Nagendra Prabhu.
Dr Prabhu's work with water hyacinths dates back to the early 2000s when he began exploring ways to utilize the plant's unique properties for sustainable purposes. Through extensive research and experimentation, he developed a process to transform water hyacinths into biodegradable paper and other eco-friendly materials. His work has gained recognition for its potential to address the environmental challenges posed by water hyacinths, which are known to clog waterways and disrupt ecosystems. “I did my final year BSc project under him and with the help of Eichho Tech, a students’ Start-up venture in the college. So when I approached Anoop Kumar V, Chief Executive Officer of the Start-up, he readily agreed to design the invitation card,” Kalyani, a resident of Kainakary, reflected.
“My wedding invitation was made out of papers made using water hyacinths. So, I was only happy to help her. This issue is severe in the canal flowing before the house. We wanted to highlight the issue and bring the same to the attention of the authorities,” Anoop said. Kalyani hopes the green wedding initiative is not just a singular event, and that it turns into a movement that extends beyond the boundaries of Kuttanad. She believes that by amplifying the conversion around the water hyacinth, by using them to make several daily-use products, communities can come together to find sustainable solutions and preserve the unique beauty of Kuttanad for generations to come.
“At first one will doubt whether such practices are feasible, just like my family and would-be asked me. But here the fruits of the hard work can be seen. Similarly, I have no doubt the invasive species can be reined in by indulging in large-scale eco-conscious practices,” Kalyani beams, as she prepares herself for the most memorable event of her life.