South Africa is located at the southern tip of Africa. Weather across the area is typically hot and dry. But there is usually enough annual rainfall to grow corn, wheat, and other crops. The recent drought, however, has caused a decline in the production of these important foods (see Widespread Drought). In 2015, for example, corn production dropped by almost 30 percent compared with the previous year. Wheat production was down nearly 20 percent.
Kiara watched this trend and worried for her community. When crops fail, food becomes more expensive. In South Africa, 20 percent of the population already lives in extreme poverty. Famine—the widespread scarcity of food—can quickly lead to starvation.
Kiara started thinking of a scientific way to tackle the issue. “There’s not much science can do to improve rainfall,” she says. “So I started looking at the research and found that even drought-stricken areas receive some rain—it just doesn’t fall regularly.” She wondered if there was a way to capture those precious drops of water and store them in the soil. That way, the water could be released slowly over time to nourish crops even during the driest times.