The Nile Flower: A Source of Fortune

By Zeinab Abul Gheit

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In the last 90 years, the Nile Flower prevailed in an unprecedented way in the Nile Basin countries in Africa, Southern United States, Southeast Asia, Indonesia and China.  This beautiful plant, scientifically known as the Agapanthus, is now dubbed as the worst in the world because of its dangerous effect on the environment.  However, several states have transferred its disadvantages into a source of fortune through several industries.

How it Came to Egypt

According to Dr. Walid Hakiki, official speaker of the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources, the first person to introduce the Nile Flower in Egypt was Mohamed Ali Pasha in 1890, and it became popular during the era of Khedive Tawfik who was fond of the plant’s beauty and used it as decoration in the fountains of his palace.

The appearance of the flower in the Nile started when the gardeners of the royal palace threw its remains into the river where it started to multiply wildly, as one plant produces nearly 5000 seeds, resulted in inflicting the Nile’s irrigation and drainage networks.

Hakiki remarked that the Nile Flower is a national problem because of its avidity in absorbing water, causing the loss of three billion cubic meters of the Nile water yearly, as well as the extinction of fish and other marine creatures, seeing as it also absorbs oxygen from the water.

Negative Impacts

The accumulation of the Nile Flower caused a drop in the level of water in Al Mahmoudiya Canal, consequently causing many problems in the drinking and irrigation water, besides delaying navigational movement in the Nile.

The season of the proliferation of the Nile Flower is during spring and summer due to the temperature, low salinity of the water and existence of leftovers from the factories in the canals and drainage system that also promote its reproduction.

According to a professor at the Desert Research Center, the evaporation of three billion cubic meters of water yearly by the Nile Flower is a great loss since Egypt’s water consumption is 105 billion cubic meters a year, whereas its yearly quota from the Nile is only 55 billion cubic meters. On that basis, 80 billion cubic meters are needed to cover the deficit, which is covered by the processed agricultural drainage water and the aquifer of underground water.

Hamdi Ali, head of the Union of Water Users in Fayoum governorate, says that the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources spends EGP 35 million yearly for eradicating the Nile Flower, adding that all the means had failed in removing the plant completely. This means that Egypt will lose nearly 10% from its quota of Nile water yearly.

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Benefits and Uses

However, there are economic benefits that can be achieved in several industries as some parts of the plant can be used in the production of toothpaste, cosmetics and other pharmaceutical industries. The leaves c used as a fodder for animals, while other industries include paper, carton, artificial soil, wood, biogas, baskets and bio fertilizers.

Dr. Ali El Magdoub, a professor at Alexandria Faculty of Agriculture, says that the Philippines uses this plant in making rope, shoes and bags, while in India, after being removed from water, it is left to dry and ferment after adding the remains of animals’ dung to it and the biogas is extracted from the mixture.

The National Center for Water Researches carried out a successful experiment on the production of biogas and organic fertilizers. “The technique is very simple for meeting the basic needs of energy and also for producing a good organic fertilizer that increases agricultural production,” Dr. Mohamed Abdul Motaleb, head of the National Center of Water Resources, said. “This is based on mixing the Nile Flower with animal dung for producing a clean biogas and high quality of fermented organic material, which has no smell and can be used as a good organic fertilizer.”

Five fermentation units were also established by the Delta Barrage Research stations, in addition to the implementation of two fermentation units for producing biogas in Desounes village in Beheira governorate. The process was successful, and the biogas was produced to use in cooking and lighting, in addition to the production of bio fertilizers that contain a high rate of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.

Removal Methods

A Chinese delegation in Kafr El Sheikh will be assisting in the removal of the Nile Flower from the Nile, canals and lakes via untraditional means to be used in beautification products.

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During an interview with officials from the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, it was revealed that before 1990, chemical procedures were used but were stopped due to their harmful effect on health. Now, mechanical and manual means are being used, says Dr. Alaa Abdin, a professor and the general supervisor at the National Water Research Center.

In the last few years, the Ministry succeeded in reducing the areas inflicted by the Nile Flower and water weeds in areas located at the end of the Rashid and Damietta branches.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Removal

Dr. Abdin adds that the industrialization of the Nile Flower can achieve economic revenues and will contribute to curbing the costs of maintenance. On the other hand, no use was made until now from the Nile Flower after being removed from the water.

Internationally, the Nile Flower has not been economically exploited for several reasons. Mainly, the flower contains 95% of its weight water, accordingly, the cost of its removal from the water then separating the part to be industrialized is not economically tempting.

However, Abdin noted that each part of the plant can be used in a different industry: the leaves and trunk for animal fodder, the nape (neck) of the leaves for producing coal, while the roots can be used to produce artificial soil.

Dr. Mostafa Al Bakshawan, professor at Alexandria Agriculture University adds that the Nile Flower, though it reduces the rate of pollution by 75 to 80% and improves the quality of the water by absorbing some hazardous elements such as arsenic, cobalt and nickel from the water, it impedes the canals and drainage system.

He advises that the plant should remain in the water for a while, but when it reaches a certain level of proliferation, removing it will become necessary.

It is noteworthy to mention that each kilogram of the dried Nile Flower produces 374 liters of biogas, and that when combined with sugarcane honey and orange, it is a nourishing meal for animals.

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