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Swazi boys win science prize

Sakhiwe Shongwe and Bonkhe MahlalelaTwo 14-year-old boys from Swaziland have won a major award at Google’s International Science Fair this week for their innovative plan to provide affordable hydroponics to poor subsistence farmers.

Sakhiwe Shongwe and Bonkhe Mahlalela came up with the idea in response to the issues in their rural community.  The two high-school friends know first hand the difficulties facing subsistence farmers; Bonkhe has lived on food aid for most of his life. Food shortage is a major problem in Swaziland. Over 70 per cent of the country is undeveloped and 80 per cent of vegetables are imported.

Sakhiwe and Bonkhe won the Science in Action award in July for developing a ‘unique simplified hydroponics method to grow vegetables using local waste organic matter and used waste cartons as garden containers.’ This twist on traditional hydroponics doesn’t rely on fertile soil or expensive chemicals. The simplified method uses chicken manure as a readily available nutrient. Controlled tests have shown that the method increased the crop yield by 32 per cent.

Sakhiwe said: ‘We believe that Swaziland neither needs the tons of food aid coming from Western and Eastern countries, nor complicated expensive strategies beyond the budget of the country to solve low food productivity. Rather Swaziland needs education; innovation; creativity and the use of simple science strategies, using what can be easily available to produce enough for consumption and export, creating wealth for the country.’

More information about their project can be found here.

Photo copyright Andrew Federman

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