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Kiara Nirghin has won a US $50,000 scholarship due to her project that uses orange peels to retain water in the soil.
3 Oct 2016 - 12:15 PM  UPDATED 3 Oct 2016 - 12:17 PM

A 16-year-old Indian-origin girl’s idea of fighting drought with fruit has topped the Google science fair in the US.

Year 11 student Kiara Nirghin from South Africa has won the top prize of $50,000 scholarship with her project ‘No More Thirsty Crops’, news agency PTI has reported.

In her project, Kiara has used orange peel to develop a cheap super-absorbent material that helps soil retain water, in order to alleviate the problems faced by farmers due to drought in South Africa.

She believes the super-absorbent polymers (SAPs) are the solution to the issues concerning food security in South Africa. SAPs absorb and carry about 300 times its weight in liquid relative to their own mass.

“However, these SAPs are not biodegradable, costly and full of acrylic acid, sodium hydroxide and other chemicals,” she said.

But, during more research on the topic, she found naturally occurring polymers in citrus fruits.

After 45 days of experimentation, Kiara was able to create  a “low-cost” super-absorbent polymer, made out of waste products found in the juice manufacturing industry, that is biodegradable, can retain large amounts of water, keep soil moist and improve crop growth without regular water supplements.

She is convinced that her mixture will help assist farmers in agricultural drought disaster areas, where food security could increase by 73%.

Kiara draws inspiration from well-known Indian scientists MS Swaminathan. She hopes to be an agriculture scientist and molecular gastronomist. 

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