Professor Jacqueline Goldin presenting Diamonds on the Soles of their Feet on a global stage. SUPPLIED
Professor Jacqueline Goldin presenting Diamonds on the Soles of their Feet on a global stage. SUPPLIED

Empowering farmers with fresh water sources

By Murphy Nganga Time of article published Nov 27, 2021

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Cape Town - Professor Jacqueline Goldin of the University of the Western Cape (UWC), and her team, emerged as one of the winners at the Falling Walls Science Summit in Berlin earlier this month.

The inclusive citizen science project was recognised for its effort in raising awareness about the necessity of fresh underground water in South African communities, and helping to transform and empower farmers who pump groundwater from wells to nature in their potato-growing community.

The project, titled Diamonds on the Soles of their Feet, made one of the top three out of 189 scientific projects from 80 nations at the summit. Through their graphic facilitation, storyboards and training farmers to put dip-meters into the wells to read how much water is available, Goldin was able to showcase how important it is to exchange data, knowledge, tools and skills with ordinary citizens, apart from your day-to-day scientist.

“I found it really rather inspiring to title the project Diamonds on the Soles of their Feet, because as farmers became more water literate by measuring and recording important data, or rather the ’Treasure’, the idea of diamonds at the grass roots came about because this was valuable data they were collecting in the hopes of helping the community understand their natural environment,” she said.

“Additionally, collaboration was the driving force of this project because it simply wouldn’t be possible to get data if we didn’t approach the key role players who use the groundwater. The project aimed to push out the myth about science ‘Hero/Heroine’ because the breakthroughs were deeply collaborative in order to bridge the gap between ‘hard’ science and humanities,” said Goldin.

Groundwater specialist, Dr Innocent Muchingami said that while being a scientist and having had to work hands-on with the farmers, collaboration was essential to both parties given the outcome it serves for both scientists and farmers.

“Given that farmers are the eventual water users for their day to day agricultural activities, it is is necessary for them to understand the variation of such groundwater resources in order to allow them to plan the type of crops, cropping schedules, and ensuring sustainability of their water resources, by cropping in an integrated way.”

“With the level of collaboration between scientists and farmers growing, purely based on mutual trust and respect for each other, we scientists often need to tap and learn from the farmers who are owners of the indigenous knowledge.”

“The collaboration helps with the conceptualisation of the water resources in the area and on the other hand the farmers would need the scientist to come up with knowledge gaps and technical recommendations for them, hence the relationship and collaboration has grown over the years. However room for improvement is still needed in areas of participation in citizen science by all farmers,” said Muchingami.

Goldin added that while such projects are bringing science out of the laboratory, such projects are also smashing down walls between science and the humanities

“In order to preserve our natural resources, cooperation with geologists, hydrologists and other water scientists is needed so that the humanities can engage head on with earth sciences.”

“The data is of course a treasure, but it is not just about the ’Hard data’ but is also about what people carry in their hearts and heads. Dignity, hope and pride might be invincible, but so is the important invincible water that is critical in our lives,” said Goldin.

Weekend Argus

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