New Internationalist

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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  1. #1 Dora 06 Aug 12

    Well done Sakhiwe Shongwe and Bonkhe Mahlalela!! Such enthusiasm and creativity from a country where the public teachers have been on strike since June. Let's hope King Mswati III and his thirteen wives will support this innovation financially out of their own pocket, as it is sustainable and may give hope to communities in Swaziland.

  2. #2 jane 08 Aug 12

    Great. Proper grass roots stuff for grass roots people. I wish those lads well in helping Swaziland become self sufficient. Sakhiwe's comments are very apt he understands his environment very well. As being out of Africa myself (worked in Kenya and Botswana, visited friends in Swaziland) I reallly appreciate his self-help rather than gimme outlook. Go for it lads. Tsamaya sentle.

  3. #3 Marie Lloyd 08 Aug 12

    This made my morning joyful-local boys, intimate with the problem, offer the road to a solution with materials largely at hand. When can I help micro finance this one!?

  4. #4 Celia Murray 09 Aug 12

    Congratulations Sakhiwe and Bonke. We are so very proud of your experiment and sound results. Please get in touch with my nephew ,Brad Lancaster in Tuscon, Arizona - he is a specialist in this field. You can find him on Facebook also. He would be very happy to write to you about your work in Swaziland. He has visited your country.....as his mother is South African too.

  5. #5 Loveth 30 Mar 16

    Please this is an important message for HIV/AIDS positive patients only, I think you all should see this, and know how you can help yourself: http://bit.do/realhivcure

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About the author

Libby Powell a New Internationalist contributor

Libby Powell won the Guardian International Development Journalism prize in 2010. She has worked for several years in Palestine and the refugee camps of Lebanon, on humanitarian aid and health. Her work documents the human stories behind military occupation and displacement through film, photography and print.

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