Martha Williams joined the Borlaug LEAP Fellowship for the Fall 2016 cycle from Sierra Leone. She received funding from the West African Agricultural Productivity Program (WAAPP-1c), a World Bank funded project, for her PhD research on the bioavailability of beta-carotene, iron and zinc in fufuproduced from bio-fortified cassava roots. Martha has been passionate about food and nutrition security since her time as an undergraduate student when she focused on researching and developing high-nutrient food products. She received her PhD from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, in Nigeria, where she conducted research on the viability of bio-fortified root vegetables, especially cassava, for nutritional improvement among the poorer populations of Sierra Leone. Her goal is to improve food security by increasing access to foods that will directly impact the nutritional health of the more disadvantaged people in West Africa.
After completing a Master’s in Nutrition and Dietetics at Njala University in Sierra Leone, Martha found employment at the Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute (SLARI) as a Nutrition Research Officer. There, she conducted surveys on the nutritional health of mothers and children under 5. Her goal is to take the skills she learned as a Borlaug LEAP fellow and be an exemplary leader in her job and help others move toward better health. She feels that being a good leader is someone who is an “advocate, innovator, and motivator” and she hopes to bring those skills to the forefront of her career.
US mentor Dr. Edward Smith, a fellow Sierra Leonean and a professor at Virginia Tech, guided Martha in conducting research in nutritional genomics and bioavailability at his lab. He had extensive experience not only in research, but in mentoring and working with international graduate students pursuing their degrees. CGIAR mentor Dr. Busie Maziya-Dixon, a crop-utilization specialist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), worked with Martha to identify cassava genotypes and proper bio-fortification techniques. Martha completed her PhD in June 2018.