ADVERTISEMENT

Teens Engineer a Way to Help Swazi Farmers

The 14-year-old winners of the Google Science Fair's Science in Action Award, sponsored by Scientific American, discuss their project: a way for subsistence farmers to grow crops in larger quantities using hydroponics instead of soil



COURTESY OF TITUS MANDLA SITHOLE

PROFILE

NAMES
Sakhiwe Shongwe and Bonkhe Mahlalela

TITLE
Students, Lusoti High School

LOCATION
Simunye, Swaziland

Why did you decide to enter the Google Science Fair?

Shongwe: Being born and raised in Swaziland, I have experienced the challenges that our country is facing. My work in many community development projects, through the mentorship of our teacher and environmental club patron, stimulated me to ask questions.

Mahlalela: At first it was just about helping my friend who has taken our teacher's advice to think big and take part in such activities as the Google Science Fair. I felt the need to help myself, my family and the community at large. We then asked our teacher if this is a good idea. I remember our teacher saying, “Go for it, boys—this is brilliant.

How does your project impact the community you grew up in?

Shongwe: To solve low food productivity, I believe that Swaziland neither needs the tons of food aid coming from Western and Eastern countries nor complex strategies the country cannot afford. Educating subsistence farmers is the key, and our experimental project has proved to be one of the best approaches. If we can empower Swazi subsistence farmers with knowledge of simplified hydroponics and production of organic crops, one challenge—food shortage in the country—could be significantly reduced. Apart from each family having enough food, surplus crops could be sold to local markets, reducing the high food prices that are mainly a result of the cost of transporting vegetables from South Africa. In addition, the project eliminates tilling, which results in soil erosion.

What does this new recognition mean to you?

Shongwe: It means a lot because I once considered being a scientist, and this could be the start of it all. I cannot express my feelings enough, not to mention how Swaziland could change for the better. Even if it could not change the whole country, targeting Bonkhe's [rural] community could make a difference, creating a self-sustainable community by developing the people.

Mahlalela: It lets me know that my age does not limit my abilities and that I can be as useful to the community as much as any other person. Being part of a solution in a local community is as important as winning the prize.

Who are your scientific inspirations and why?

Shongwe: My scientific inspirations are all the people and businesses that the community has at heart, including my patron teachers, friends who helped me in my project and business people who invest in community development.

Mahlalela: Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking are my scientific inspirations. I find it hard to believe how all their discoveries and contributions to our understanding about the universe are possible. I'm very passionate about physics and physical science. Space science and all the scientific theories and discoveries evolving each day inspire me most.

What do you think was the most revolutionary invention of the past century?

Shongwe: I think it is the ARVs [antiretroviral drugs] because they save lives. One major challenge of Swaziland today is HIV/AIDS. Swaziland has more than 100,000 orphans because of HIV/AIDS deaths in just 10 years.

But I see every invention revolving around the introduction of computers, the Internet and software as substantial. Without these, all other inventions would take much more time and effort to invent.

Mahlalela: For the past 100 years I think the communications devices and transportation equipment, such as the airplane, are the most revolutionary because they opened a gateway toward globalization.

For the past 10 years I believe it is the ARVs—they saved a lot of people's lives. —The Editors

Comment at ScientificAmerican.com/aug2012

Rights & Permissions

This article was originally published with the title "Water for Crops."

or subscribe to access other articles from the August 2012 publication.
Digital Issue $5.99
Digital Issue + Subscription $39.99 Subscribe
Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.

Back to School Sale!

One year just $19.99

Order now >

X

Email this Article

X