Q&A: Award-winning teenagers develop solution for farming in arid regions

The winners of this year’s Stockholm Junior Water Prize, Hiroki Matsuhashi and Takuma Miyaki, found a new use for tataki – a material used in Japanese earthen floors. Easy and cheap to make, tataki can be used to form barriers that collect rainwater for farming in arid regions. Learn more about their project in our interview with the winners.
 
With 30 percent of the world’s population living in arid or semi-arid regions, with rainy and dry seasons, solutions are needed to help farmers in these regions better control soil runoff and increase food production. In Hiroki and Takuma’s project, tataki can be used to create barriers and embankments on farms that prevent rainwater runoff, leading to better harvests. Tataki is created by mixing soil, sand and slaked lime.

Why are global water problems so important to solve?

Hiroki: Water is a precious resource for humans and is absolutely necessary for life. However, there are many areas of the world where there are serious water challenges, like pollution and a lack of clean drinking water. I think we all need to contribute to solving these water problems.
 
Takuma: Water shortages are happening all over the world. I think young people have an important role to play in solving water problems, coming up with creative ideas that can really change things. It is very important to create places where young people can take on water challenges, such as with the Stockholm Junior Water Prize. With our project, we thought about how we can use rainwater more effectively for agriculture, even in places without much water. That was the main idea behind our research.

Your solution was inspired by the earthen floor, known as tataki, used in sumo wrestling. Does everyone in Japan know what tataki is?

Hiroki: I don’t think many people know what tataki is. The idea for using this type of material came from the fact that Takuma's grandmother's house is partly built with tataki.
 
Takuma: In Japan, tataki is used for the entrances and walls of houses. However, it is not very well known because it is not used so much now. When I found it at my grandmother's house, that gave us an idea of how we might use it for our project.

What is the next step for your tataki solution?

Hiroki: In order to let people know how tataki can be used in agriculture, we made a manual on how to use tataki and posted it on our school’s homepage. It’s very cheap to make tataki and it has a lot of possible applications
 
Takuma: I would like to spread what we have learned through detailed videos and photos online. It would be great if people actually tried to use what we learned on their farms and in different areas.

What do you think you will be working with in 10 years? What kind of job would you like to have then?

Hiroki: After graduating from high school, I want to become an agricultural engineer, so I want to enroll in a vocational school. When COVID-19 is over, I would like to actually visit some places to spread the word about our solution with local people.
 
Takuma: I want to work in a job related to housing and other facilities. Building houses is so important in helping people live safe, happy lives, so this is something that interests me a lot.

Hiroki, you wrote on your Stockholm Junior Water Prize profile that you like comics and novels. What are some of your favorites?

My favorite comics are One Piece and Naruto. I like the story and characters of these comics very much.

Takuma, you are studying electric engineering. What about electrical engineering interests you?

To be honest, I think there are a lot of difficult parts. However, I am very happy when I think that people's lives will literally be illuminated when I am able to understand wiring.

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