Without fertile soil and abundant water, a farmer would seem to be missing the most essential tools of his trade. Hydroponics can help a struggling farmer grow an abundant crop even on a small parcel of land in a desert, on a rooftop, in a starving city - with no need for such luxuries as soil and rain.
Two 14-year-olds from Swaziland recently won Scientific American's inaugural Science in Action award by coming up with a plan to use hydroponics to provide food for their tiny country which is completely surrounded by South Africa.
"Over 80 percent of the vegetables consumed in Swaziland each year are imported from South Africa," according to a video the two teenagers, Sakhiwe Shongwe and Bonkhe Mahlalela, created about their project. "Forty percent of the population relies on food aid."
Besides a $50,000 prize and a year of mentoring from Scientific American, the teens will be flown to Google's California headquarters in July to compete in the Google Science Fair.
In an experiment comparing their biodegradable hydro system to soil cultivation of crops, Shongwe and Mahlalela found hydro gave them a 32 percent boost in yield, 180 percent faster plant growth and 114 percent greater profit margin.