Montana State University

MSU graduate student wins Fulbright to study in Mozambique

June 19, 2014 -- Tanya Reinhardt, MSU News Service

MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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BOZEMAN—Mica Jenkins, a Montana State University, graduate student in sustainable food systems from Lenoir City, Tenn., has received a Fulbright scholarship to study how health and nutrition can be improved in Mozambique.

Jenkins said she was excited to learn about the Fulbright and is looking forward to returning to Mozambique where she has already spent a year working with impoverished communities. As a Peace Corps volunteer Jenkins worked on a Junior Farmer agricultural development project with World Vision.

“In 2010, I worked with agricultural experts in Mozambique teaching conservation practices and farming techniques that included crop rotation and minimal tillage. As part of the Junior Farmer program, we encouraged crop diversification by including peanuts, cow peas and vegetables in addition to corn,” said Jenkins who learned to speak Portuguese, an official language in Mozambique, while studying in Brazil as an undergraduate.

While with World Vision, Jenkins made connections with educators from the International Potato Center and developed an interest in sweet potatoes. “I was showing people how to cook, juice and bake with orange sweet potatoes,” Jenkins said. “Although my main job was developing junior farmer groups, I occasionally got to help promote the health benefits of eating the orange-flesh variety at community events and health fairs.”

“Mica is an exceptional student who demonstrates advanced critical thinking skills, problem-solving capabilities, and a commitment to learning everyday in the vast field of food systems,” said Jenkins’ academic adviser, Carmen Byker, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Human Development. “Paired with her previous cultural experiences Mica is poised to lead and make large contributions to an important area of research in food, agriculture, and nutrition.”

UNICEF reports vitamin A deficiencies affect 69 percent of Mozambican children under the age of five, and 11 percent of mothers, weakening their immunity against infection. Jenkins project is aimed at mitigating the deficiency through diet.

“White sweet potatoes are traditionally grown and consumed in Mozambique,” Jenkins said. “But a large percent of the population has vitamin A deficiency and by increasing the growth and consumption of orange sweet potatoes, we can help reduce those deficiencies.”

Jenkins plans to live in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique which is on the southeastern coast of Africa, and from there plans to visit six different provinces.

“My research will include surveys, interviews and focus groups with people in different communities to see which varieties of potato they prefer and which are drought tolerant,” Jenkins said. 

According to the World Vision website, 70 percent of the Mozambique population live below the poverty line.

“I think it is important to think about sustainable agricultural development in terms of the local context,” said Jenkins who is passionate about helping the populace in Mozambique where most farmers rely on rainfall instead of irrigation.

“This project will encourage Mozambican farmers to mingle new methods and techniques with existing practices. People have to eat and get by day to day, so there is no way to replace an entire agricultural system. We can, however, make incremental changes over time,” Jenkins said.

According to Byker, findings from this project could significantly impact Mozambique and the world’s knowledge about the adoption, implementation and maintenance of this type of sweet potato.

Jenkins earned her undergraduate degree from the University of South Carolina in 2007, and then spent two years with the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic where she became fluent in Spanish.

“I found MSU online,” said Jenkins who came to MSU in 2013 to study sustainable foods and agricultural systems with Carmen Byker, assistant professor in the Department of Health and Human Development.

“MSU offered the merger between agriculture and nutrition that I was looking for, and it included a wide variety of course options,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins plans to finish her classroom requirements this fall before heading to Africa where she will spend nearly nine months in Mozambique.

“I am really looking forward to getting back to Mozambique,” said Jenkins who hopes to continue working in international agricultural development.

Contact: Carmen J. Byker, (406) 994-1952, Carmen.byker@montana.edu