Ntambi granted Global Research & Outreach Award

Photo of James Ntambi
Professor James Ntambi.

James Ntambi, professor in the Departments of Biochemistry and Nutritional Sciences, is the 2024 recipient of the Global Research & Outreach (GRO) Award from the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences for his project, “Impact of Enhancing Soybean Sack Gardening on the Lowering of Protein Deficiency Among Children in the Lweza-Mukono Community of Uganda.”

Ntambi has been leading study abroad trips for undergraduate students to his native Uganda for more than two decades. As part of the Uganda Program, students visit communities, including Lweza-Mukono, focusing on the intersection of agriculture, nutrition, metabolic diseases, and healthcare.

Through his visits to Uganda, Ntambi identified a need for fresh foods to diversify and supplement the available diets of children.“ We noticed that some children, along with their young mothers, looked malnourished,” says Ntambi. “With this project, we want to address nutrition of young children – children under five years old – to reduce rates of hospitalization for children suffering from malnutrition.”

Ntambi saw an opportunity to address a nutrient deficiency known as kwashiorkor, which occurs in people who have insufficient protein in their diet. A complete diet for children includes, among other nutrients, nine essential amino acids. A deficiency in just one of these amino acids will lead to kwashiorkor, which decreases growth rates, muscle mass, and immunity. Eating complete proteins such as soybeans, which contain all of the essential amino acids, can be used to combat kwashiorkor.

With the GRO Award, Ntambi will distribute a creative solution to kwashiorkor: “sack gardens” for families to grow soybeans at home. “Families may not have enough land to cultivate their own large garden,” says Ntambi. “Through sack gardening, we can make it possible for people to grow their own protein in the form of soybeans and we can source the sacks and the plants from within the community.” 200 families with young children will each be provided with a kit for two sack gardens, including sacks, nutrient-rich soil, fertilizer, and 8-10 soybean seedlings, as well as nutritional pamphlets explaining the relationship between diet and metabolic diseases.

Ntambi collaborated with past participants of the Uganda undergraduate study abroad program to apply for the $5,000 award to fund the sack garden project. Jacqueline Miller, who is majoring in biochemistry, biology, and Italian and Alexandra Anagnostopoulos, who is majoring in neurobiology, assisted in writing the grant.

The sack gardens will be distributed to families in the Lweza-Mukono community this summer when Ntambi returns to Uganda with a new group of study abroad students. He plans to track how families are using the garden kits and whether the rate of kwashiorkor has been impacted six months later during the January 2025 study abroad program.

“My vision has always been to take the research that we do and the information that we share through our courses here at the university and use it to help people improve their own health, even if they don’t have access to our classes or to the papers that researchers publish,” says Ntambi. “Through this grant, we have an opportunity to educate about nutrition and to help to prevent non-communicable diseases associated with malnutrition.”