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A 16-year-old South African is the regional winner for Middle East and Africa in the Google Science Fair’s Community Impact Award. She is now in line to be one of 16 global finalists and will travel to the Google headquarters in California for the award ceremony.

The finals are in September.

Kiara Nirghin‚ from St Martin’s High School in Johannesburg‚ decided to tackle the drought affecting Southern Africa and has come up with a revolutionary way of keeping crops hydrated for longer‚ at a much lower cost.

Using orange peels and avocado skins‚ the teen has created a material that can hold hundreds of times its weight in water‚ in the soil. This super absorbent polymer then acts as a water reservoir in the earth.

By saving water this way‚ her idea — which she titled No More Thirsty Crops — could have a massive impact on how the continent manages the effects of climate change in years to come. And‚ because it’s made from orange and avocado skins‚ it will not break the budget of local farmers‚ like so many other water storage devices do.

Kiara has had an interest in science from a young age. “I vividly remember at the age of seven experimenting with vinegar and baking soda solutions in plastic cups. My natural curiosity and questioning nature has sparked my everlasting love of science‚” she said in her submission.

She said she was delighted that her experiment used no chemicals and was made entirely from waste products which have “the ability to store water in soil and combat the effects of drought on plants”, increasing food security.

The Google Science Fair invites the brightest young minds from around the world to answer one important question: how can they make the world better through science‚ maths‚ and engineering.

Google received thousands of entries from 107 countries.

Some of the other ideas from Sub-Saharan Africa included a new take on solar and steam energy with a “periscope-derived” energy device in Kenya‚ and portable energy solutions to modernise rural communities in Cameroon.

Kiara finds out on August 11 if she’s made it to the Global final 16.

You can read more about her experiment here.

This article was first published in BDlive on 19 July 2016