Former Borlaug LEAP fellow Dr. Mariam Mtunguja believes that good leaders develop through a never-ending process of self-study, education, training, and experience. She saw her Borlaug LEAP Fellowship as an opportunity to increase her knowledge, enhance her skills and expand her professional network. She took a study leave from her position as a research scientist at the Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute (MARI), under the Ministry of Agriculture Food Security and Cooperatives (MAFSC) in Tanzania, in order to pursue her doctoral studies. Dr. Mtunguja was working towards a PhD in Food Science at Sokoine University of Agriculture at the time that she received her fellowship.
Dr. Mtunguja’s research focused on identifying cassava varieties with high starch content that could be recommended for commercial production. A better understanding of the properties of cassava starch will hopefully help to identify different industrial applications for the starch. Cassava starch has the potential to be used in baking, textile, pharmaceutical and paper industries. Her studies contributed to moving cassava from a subsistence to a commercial crop and, in turn, helping farmers to generate income and improve household food security.
During the Borlaug LEAP fellowship, Dr. Mtunguja traveled to the University of California, Davis to work with Dr. Neelima Sinha in the Department of Plant Biology. Dr. Mtunguja’s work was cross-disciplinary, involving skills in molecular techniques as well as the post-harvest traits of cassava. She worked closely with the local Tanzanian growers in her selection of cassava land-races to use in her study. Dr. Edward Eneah Kanju from IITA -Tanzania mentored her activities related to cassava breeding. Dr. Mtunguja graduated with her PhD in Food Science in November 2015 is currently a senior agriculture research officer at MARI where she is heading the Post-harvest and Technology Transfer unit. The unit is working on distributing improved cassava to smallholder farmers in the region as well as working on improved orange-fleshed sweetpotato varieties.