Kiara Nirghin is helping address South Africa’s worst drought in history by creating a fix for dying crops.
The region is currently facing its worst drought in decades. Eight out of nine provinces are in a state of disaster and millions of people are suffering from food insecurity.
“The dryness that my community was facing and specifically I was driving down to KwaZulu-Natal. And whenever I drive there as a kid, the dams would always be full of water. And this time, when we were driving, honestly, if you just looked on the sides, these dams were less than half empty,” the 18-year-old explained. “And I looked around and I was just so shocked. I was — knew about the drought seeing, it, like, the dams that were empty, the effect that it was having on agriculture, on animals, it was ridiculous.”
Kiara’s product could increase the possibility of crops surviving drought by 84% and could increase people food security by 73%.
“I thought a lot of research after school, after homework, after tests, I looked at different ways that you could find different ways that you could find something called polysaccharide, which is found in SAPs [Super Absorbent Polymers]. How you could find it in a natural material,” Nirghin explained. “And I saw through research that you could find it in an orange peel.”
The young scientist created a material that collects and stores large amounts of water using orange and avocado peels, so farmers can grow crops during the country’s crisis. Now she’s partnered with an agriculture company to produce her SAP.