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Winning a fellowship with the African Women in Agriculture Research and Development (AWARD) programme for her research was just the first step for Kenyan researcher Mary Anyango Oyunga.
Oyunga’s research —that Orange Fleshed Sweet Potatoes were extremely rich in vitamin A — was published in 2009 in the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development.
Since then she has been communicating her findings to women smallholder farmers, telling them that particular types of sweet potato have an important nutritional value — especially for young children.
"Conducting a study is one important step," said Oyunga, who works at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute "But making it real by using the findings as a tool to improve livelihoods of people on the ground is what makes it complete."
The programme was developed in 2008 to strengthen research and leadership skills of African women in agricultural science. It offers female researchers mostly from Africa two-year mentored fellowships, to help them acquire various skills like writing in scientific journals, developing proposals to fund implementation of their research, and working with poor communities during implementation.
According to the WHO, vitamin A deficiency is responsible for most cases of impaired blindness in children and significantly increases the risk of severe illness, and even death, from common childhood infections.
Oyunga has received funding for the Sweet Potato Action for Security and Health in Africa programme to help popularise these potato varieties. In a pilot project in Western Kenya, pregnant women attending public health clinics are issued with a voucher to receive potato vines that they can plant, a programme that could be replicated elsewhere in Africa if successful.
"When your study is implemented especially to serve the rural poor, you feel like you’ve created a bridge that people are using to cross from the world of poverty to economic development. It is extremely satisfying," Oyunga said.