Dr. Mary Oyunga, a 2012 Borlaug LEAP fellow, is currently a Senior Research Officer at KALRO in Kenya, heading up their Root & Tuber program. She completed her PhD at Maseno University in, Kenya. From the early 90s, Oyunga focused her research on the orange-fleshed sweet potato as dietary source vitamin A for children under-five and women of childbearing age. She had the opportunity to work with Dr. Jan Low at the International Potato Center (CIP) during her fellowship as well as Dr. Aimee Webb of Emory University, and has worked at many other national and international organizations since then. She has helped create and implement intervention studies in sub-Saharan Africa where Vitamin A deficiency is prevalent based on her research.
Dr. Oyunga worked on a project that integrated agriculture and health approach into an existing health project in Western Kenya, focusing on improving the well-being of vulnerable target groups, especially pregnant/lactating mothers and children two years and under. This approach was designed to encourage healthy behavior through the delivery of nutrition and health communication messages via various community channels, such as local agricultural extension services, local NGOs, and health centers. It was the first intervention study that explicitly linked orange fleshed sweetpotato distribution to an existing public health service, which was educating the public on the importance of Vitamin A in the diet.
Oyunga received the Borlaug LEAP fellowship in 2012 while conducting her research focused on Maternal & Child Nutrition. Her thesis was titled “Burden of Vitamin A Deficiency and Nutritional Status among Children Aged 6 - 23 months in Bungoma and Busia Counties of Western Kenya”. In her studies, Oyunga looked for simple, yet indisputable, estimates of prevalence of vitamin A deficiency (VAD) and nutritional status, predictors/risk factors of VAD, investigated and demonstrated geo-spatial distribution of VAD, and examined the perceptions and experiences of frontline nutritionists and caretakers/mothers on their knowledge about VAD among children 6-23 months in Western Kenya. Before this study was conducted, Kenya lacked sufficient information which often made decisions any on interventions inaccurate. Oyunga is grateful for her Borlaug LEAP fellowship experiences, which has enabled her to implement tasks associated with her new roles, especially with respect to Maternal and Child nutrition. Oyunga was a 2009 African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) recipient.