Kiara Nirghin, a 16-year old South African schoolgirl, won the Google Science Fair’s Community Impact Award innovation prize, for her discovery that is set to help increase the soil’s ability to retain water.
Nirghin, who won $50,000 in scholarship for the innovation undertook three experiments in 45 days to discover an orange peel and avocado skin mixture that is likely to replace the expensive and non-biodegradable super-absorbent polymers (SAPs).
“I sought to create a product that can improve soil quality, preserve water and resist drought, therefore producing a better environment for crops to grow,” read part of the research report by the Grade 11 student at St Martins School.
The Google award is meant for young scientists, between the ages of 13 and 18 who provide scientific and technological innovations to help solve some of the biggest challenges facing the world today.
Nirghin’s innovation, ‘No More Thirsty Crops’, can hold reserves of water hundreds of times its own weight and affords farmers with a cheap method of water storage that is also environment friendly.
The recent drought in Africa’s biggest economy, with the lowest rainfall levels since 1904, inspired Nirghin, as the country intensified searches for superabsorbent polymers to act as reservoirs of the water collected in the soil.
“I wanted to minimize the effect that drought has on the community and the main thing it affects is the crops. That was the springboard for the idea,” CNN quoted Nirghin.
The schoolgirl is working alongside a mentor from Google to design the polymer that she hopes will soon be tested in the field.
Dr. Jinwen Zhang, a professor at the Washington State University who is absorbing hydrogels to address drought said that the innovation is a viable solution to one of the biggest challenges facing the world.
Several countries are grappling with severe droughts that have exposed millions of Africans to malnutrition and starvation.
In northern South Sudan, at least four million people are faced with starvation while in Somalia, about 4.7 million are in dire need of food aid.
Ethiopia, South Africa, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe experienced low levels of rainfall since last year leaving at least 45 million people in need of food aid, Al Jazeera reported.