When children play with worms it is usually frowned upon. But for Tiisetso Lephoto, worms have opened up a whole new world — and unlocked an inspirational message for the next generation.
At just 26, Lephoto is a year away from finishing her PhD, working on a project that could have major implications for crops and farming in South Africa. Her master’s research was about entomopathogenic nematodes (EPNs), microscopic worms that live in the soil which, depending on the type of bacterial species they carry and share symbiotic relations with, have the ability to infect and kill insects within 48 to 72 hours.
The practical application of this is ground-breaking: EPNSs could act as a natural pesticide, eliminating the need for certain harmful chemicals that poison the water, the soil and the very plants that they are supposed to protect.
Lephoto is working to “understand the behaviour of the nematodes. To do this, I incorporated genetics into the project and sequenced the entire nematodes”. The findings have been published in two international journals and the Gauteng department of agriculture and rural development is very interested in the project.
Through her research, Lephoto began to realise that more people need to know just how dangerous farming with chemicals is, and just how simple the alternative can be.
“If we have a healthy, chemical-free environment we will have healthier crops. I wondered how to educate the public without scaring them away.
I had been with (Bhalahpe Education) as a volunteer and from them I have learnt that the more power you give people through education, the more you can do.”
Yes, We Are Moving was created as a multi-platform programme. In their work they educate youth about how natural and eco-savvy farming can help save the environment. “For the kids, when you think of agriculture, you think of a farm, but there’s a lot more can be done on a microbiological level.”
They started at the University of Witwatersrand and have now moved on to schools. Through the programme, students become aware of how they can play a role in the future of the planet and are encouraged to choose a healthy lifestyle and eat food that has been produced in an eco-friendly way. “The school I went to has got involved; there is a piece of land next to it. We’re going to test this now on a small scale before we expand,” says Lephoto.