The Stockholm Junior Water Prize recognizes the achievements of students aged 15 to 20, who compete with school projects that can solve some of the world’s water problems. The jury praised this year’s winners for proving that simple local solutions can solve water problems in a global context. Hiroki Matsuhashi and Takuma Miyaki combined scientific knowledge and experimentation to revolutionize the way water is collected, used, and conserved for agriculture in arid regions. In this interview we talk with Hiroki and Takuma, students from Aomori Prefectural Nakui Agricultural High School, to learn more about the method they designed to control soil runoff, and to hear their thoughts on the role of young people in addressing water issues worldwide.
Question: What does it mean for you to receive the Stockholm Water Prize?
Anwer: Hiroki Matsuhashi: I think the award at this competition rewarded me for the efforts I made in my experiments and also practicing my presentation. Also, by participating in the competition, I was able to refocus my attention on water issues, and I think that my awareness about these issues that must be resolved has increased.
We used a traditional solidification technique called Sanwa soil, used in Japan to solidify the soil and increase its strength
Takuma Miyaki: I didn't expect we would win the award. However, this competition will help to make our Japanese technology known, as well as raise awareness about current environmental problems in the world and what measures can be taken to improve them. I was involved in the research because I thought it was an opportunity. Now I think that effort has paid off.
Q: What inspired you to address agricultural water and soil conservation problems?
H. The reason why I decided to tackle these problems was that senior students were also doing research to solve environmental problems in developing countries. I saw the activities of my seniors and wanted to contribute to the solution as well.
By adding fertilizer to Sanwa soil, nutrients can be supplied to the crops, and that can lead to sustainable agriculture
T. It was triggered by a school lesson. Our school is an agricultural high school where you learn about agriculture. I learned about world agriculture when I was in the first grade. Also, at that time, I witnessed that senior students participated in the Stockholm Junior Water Prize, although they won second place. At that time, we also wanted to do this kind of research and help the world.
Q: Can you tell us about the traditional Japanese method to solidify soils known as “tataki”, and its applications in water collection and soil conservation in agricultural land?
H. The conventional water collection system uses what is called a "Zai pit system" that involves digging a hole. But because it is made of soil, it will be destroyed by rain. Therefore, we used a traditional solidification technique called Sanwa soil, used in Japan to solidify the soil and increase its strength. The Sanwa soil water collection system can collect more water than ever before and reduce soil erosion. In addition, by adding fertilizer to Sanwa soil, nutrients can be supplied to the crops, and that can lead to sustainable agriculture.
Sanwa soil, which can be made by blending any soil, can contribute to solving the problem of soil erosion all over the world
T. Sanwa soil is a technique to harden the soil. It uses soil, sand, and slaked lime (or ashed vegetation) to knead and harden the soil. I think it can be applied to various places. We were aiming for the Zai farming technique, but there are many farming methods in the world that have similar problems. It is not strong because it is done in soil. However, we believe that Sanwa soil, which can be made by blending any soil in the world, can contribute to solving the problem of soil erosion all over the world.
Q: How would you like to see your project move forward? Do you have any other ideas for future research?
H. I would like to actually use it after the end of COVID-19. To that end, first of all, I would like you to know that our research is posted on the school homepage. Also, if possible, in the future, I would like to disseminate this research so it reaches people in developing countries.
In the future, in addition to this technology, I would like to provide guidance to junior students and create new technologies
T. I would like this project to be used locally first. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been in contact with people from India and Malaysia online. However, the pandemic made it impossible to experiment. Therefore, I think that it is best to post the production manual on the school's website so that people will know about it now. In the future, in addition to this technology, I would like to provide guidance to junior students and create new technologies, and I am making efforts in this regard.
Q: What other projects did you find interesting from the Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition?
H.: I was interested in research projects from other countries. I found particularly interesting a study on the production of toxic substances in lakes in Hungary. Also, the idea of developing a biosensor was interesting; we did not think of that.
T. I think the project of the American participant was also great. The content of her P.E.N.G.U.I.N.S. project was very nice. Also, the introductory video was bright and it conveyed feelings very well. She, unfortunately, came in second place, but I think her research and presentations were probably just as good as ours.
Q: Do you think young people are aware of water issues? To what extent do you think young people across the world can play a role to help solve water resource problems?
Hiroki: Japan is rich in water resources, so I don't think there is so much of a problem here, and therefore, awareness of water issues is low. However, damage such as that caused by typhoons is increasing in Japan as well. Therefore, I think young people can propose new ideas to solve water problems; it is important to have human resources who can contribute to problem-solving.
Throughout this competition, my experience working on projects that value and use water effectively has raised awareness of water
Takuma: I think that few young people are aware of water problems. Worldwide aridity and water scarcity are a problem. However, I think that few people know about it or want to know how to improve it. I think it will be important how much young people can get to know. Young people always come up with new ideas. We want to do our best.
Q: You are at the very beginning of your career, with an impressive debut. Where do you see yourselves in the coming years?
H. Throughout this competition, my experience working on projects that value and use water effectively has raised awareness of water. I think it will be the cornerstone of sustainable technology development in the future. And if I have the opportunity, I would like to go to developing countries and make it known to the people there.
T. I think the impact of this prize will be huge. I have been invited to Stockholm next year, so I would love to go there next year to talk about the technology. Also, in the near future or when I become a senior, I would like to do my best to participate in volunteer activities overseas and use the skills I have acquired during this time.