Spring 2016 Borlaug LEAP Fellow Mary Adjepong completed her BS in Biochemistry and MPhil in Human Nutrition and Dietetics at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Ghana. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Human Nutrition and a Certificate Program in Epidemiology at Michigan State University (MSU). At MSU, she is undertaking a project to understand the importance of essential fatty acids (EFA) in growth and cognitive function in Ghanaian children. Poverty among Ghanaian women leads to under-nutrition in their children as a result of inadequate food in households and an inadequate diet while pregnant and breastfeeding. Sometimes there is food under-utilization as well, as many of the women have limited education and often do not have adequate knowledge concerning proper nutrition. Though there have been numerous vitamin and mineral interventions put in place to curb stunting in Ghana, the situation still persists, especially in the north. Additionally, there are no interventions that focus on the use of EFAs, even though they play a crucial role in growth and cognitive development. Mary seeks to understand whether there is an association between EFAs in growth and cognitive function and how local Ghanaian foods that have high EFA content can be identified and used in creating appropriate interventions. She is also looking to find the constraints of the micronutrient policy process in Ghana with the long-term goal of putting EFA supplementation on the policy agenda in Ghana.
After her undergraduate project exposed her to the nutritional challenges of pregnant women in Ghana and those of their children, Mary also encountered several people who suffered from complications that required dietary intervention while pursuing her Master’s degree. These triggered her passion for issues related to food security in her country and inspired her to research how the situation could be resolved. Being a field research assistant on an International Development Research Chairs (IDRC) project titled “Childhood obesity in Ghana” enlightened her to the dietary patterns, and possible deficiencies, of many Ghanaian children. As a BHEARD (Borlaug Higher Education in Agricultural Development) scholar at Michigan State University, she is working on a project to see if EFAs could be another potential cause of stunting in Ghana and to find possible remedies. She is also grateful that the Borlaug LEAP Fellowship will allow her to receive hands-on training in Ghana at IFPRI and to engage with her CGIAR mentor, an experience she would not have been able to take advantage of without their support.
Dr. Jenifer Fenton, a professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Michigan State University, works with fatty acids, including long chain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, to understand their role in disease prevention and reducing inflammation. Her extensive work in this field will help Mary undertake this unique research which otherwise would not have taken place in Ghana, due to logistics and lack of resources. She will provide valuable lab space as well as personal input on Mary’s work and help guide her eventual dissertation. Dr. Suresh Babu, Mary’s CGIAR mentor at International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), with his expertise in human and organizational strengthening of food policy systems and policy processes, will help her design her project to understand the constraints of policy process in Ghana. He will also help supervise any fieldwork she undertakes while participating in the fellowship. Mary’s expects to receive her PhD in 2018.