Senga Hill PF member of parliament Kapembwa Simbao’s son Mphatso has been ranked amongst the world’s 50 smartest teens for the year 2018 after he invented simple ‘technology’ that is expected to help farmers in the SADC region save up to 50 per cent on fertilizer, and 80 per cent on pesticides.
In 2016, 19-year-old Mphatso created a simple and portable production station, which requires the basic cooking materials like charcoal and local plant leaves from the ground as a way of helping local farmers find low-cost and affordable solutions for pesticides and fertilizers.
So how does this work? News Diggers! caught up with Mphatso to understand how he managed to achieve something totally different away from the usual politics his family has been renowned for.
“The way it works is simply using… first of all, you get water in a bucket then you take ashes and you add that to the water. You should use fresh ashes that haven’t stayed for a long time. Normally when we cook on firewood, all of the ashes produced can be used. Then you put the ashes in the water for boiling. It’s well known that ashes contain Potassium Hydroxide, so it ends up making the water alkaline. Then you also put in some poisonous substances or foods like left over meat. Or better yet, when you are outside in the field, there is a lot of inedible foods like poisonous mushrooms, certain types of plants, the leafage and other plant waste materials that we don’t use,” he narrated.
“So when you boil that in the alkaline water for some time, let’s say a day or more, it breaks down a lot of the materials inside those substances and so it produces the amino acids and also a bit of ammonia. This means that if you are going to use the same fire that you use for cooking, but leave the solution there to boil and put in whatever plants materials that you don’t eat and then leave it inside that alkaline water just boiling for the whole day. It’s better to boil it for as long as long possible so that everything breaks down. And if you chop up the materials it makes it faster.”
He explained that the substance produced can be poured directly on the crops after cooling down and the solution would act as fertiliser and a deadly pesticide.
“This process mostly breaks down a lot of proteins in the materials into amino acids, which are easily taken by the plants. They are easier to break down in the soil so that they be taken up by the plants. You also get different minerals from the water, you also get potassium from the water and a few other minerals that were inside the ash so that you are able to replenish the soil that way,’ Mphatso explained.
“After you are done boiling, what remains inside is a porridge like material. So there is two things, either you can just directly apply that to the soil or you can strain it out. So you strain out the solid part from the liquid part. Then the liquid, you can either put in the soil but also you can spray on your clops themselves. And it somehow acts kind of the way soap does.”
The initiative saw Mphatso scoop the 2016 Google Science Fair’s National Geographic Explorer Award and is expected to address a number of challenges that Africans in the southern region are faced with, including saving them up to 50 per cent on fertilizer, and 80 per cent on pesticides, helping them produce richer crops.
“I have always enjoyed being on the Internet trying to research on various issues. So, at that time when I came across that fair, I was just watching videos on YouTube and then I saw it. For a long time, I had wanted to apply for something, but I didn’t know what to apply in. There is a lot of different stuff that we learn at school and especially in Chemistry, I had to learn how to make Ammonia. So, that’s how I went on to the website and signed up and then I read through other people’s stories just so I could understand the best way to present your work. That’s how I worked with my lecturers and they were very supportive and helpful… so going to San Francisco (United States of America) to collect my award was just a great experience. I have never been there and also I have never been around those type of people. The funny thing is that, you meet a lot of people that you would think you have nothing in common, but you have so much in common,” Mphatso explained in an interview.
“So, the reason I wanted to do it is because I wanted to take a chance with things that I have always wanted to do as a child but always found hard to do… my mum has always encouraged me to try different things and opportunities so that’s why I wanted to definitely give it a goal… growing up I have always read the Bible and I am convinced that whatever you want to do, try and do your best to achieve it. So, that was a big motivator as to why I wanted to give this project a chance. I have always been into sciences because they explain a lot of things about the world around us and science just helps you understand things. Even though I grew up in a family of politics, we are also involved in farming. My parents have always encouraged creativity. So, it hasn’t been difficult because each time you ask to say, ‘can I try this?’ they are always willing to support you. Even as I grew up, my parents always encouraged us to look around for people who are doing different things around the world and encouraging us to do the same, so that has been a big support.”
He explained that the project had been well-received, and that the University he was currently attending in the USA, had given him and his friends a grant to undertake an irrigation project in Zimbabwe and Zambia, which they were working on.
“Me and two other friends were given a grant by my school, Macalester College in the States. So, we are doing a different project looking at irrigation, which started in Zimbabwe. This project is trying to answer the drought problems that we have been having these past few years where we receive rainfalls late and crops end up failing and people don’t get enough food either for consumption and also for selling. So, the way we wanted to answer this was by making drip irrigation using recycled materials. The one in Zimbabwe we have done more of hydroponics, but now in Zambia, I want to make sub-irrigation systems using recycled materials so that it doesn’t cost anyone anything. And it’s ongoing until August to September,” narrated Mphatso.
“So, that’s what we’re trying to get set out. But while I am doing that, I will also go back to that project and make a number of improvements to make it more practical because no one else has effectively tried it, but just people at home and other relatives as well as neighbours. But mostly it’s been at the home farm. But right now, I just want to make it more practical, much as it calls for using firewood and a few other things just to be able to generate the heat, I would like to combine it with more renewable sources of energy like making solar ovens so that people can cook. In southern Africa, we have sunlight for a larger part of the year and a larger part of the day. So, that is what we have been trying to implement now, along with the one that we are trying to implement in Zimbabwe.”
Mphatso’s father is the Senga Hill PF member of parliament. He is also former minister of Health, Works and Supply and most recently transport and communication.