Overview of GROWNUT

GROWNUT (Growing partnership for higher education and research in nutritional epidemiology in DRC) was a collaboration between three universities – the University of Kinshasa, the University of Bergen and the University of KwaZulu-Natal. In partnership with the DRC National Nutrition Programme (PRONANUT) a Masters’ and PhD programme in nutritional epidemiology were developed and implemented at the Kinshasa School of Public Health (KSPH). 


The vision for the GROWNUT project was to develop a cadre of African nutrition scholars and researchers to provide context relevant nutrition research, and expedite the translation of research findings into nutrition policy.

The project was developed to promote sustainability and create institutional capacity by providing opportunities for professional development. This includes skills development for teaching and research staff members at the KSPH, as well as providing prospects for research collaborations between the participating universities. The establishment of a residential rural research site where students could gain experiences of a variety of nutrition conditions and opportunities to work with local communities, was critical to the GROWNUT project.

Funding for this important work was provided by the Norwegian Programme for Capacity Development in Higher Education and Research for Development (NORHED) through the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) (agreement number 1300733, COG-13/0002).

Successes from the GROWNUT project

A strong partnership was established between equal partners who shared a strong vision for the project: This was fundamental to the successful implementation of a new postgraduate nutritional epidemiology programme, whilst building institutional capacity at KSPH, and public health research skills and academic leadership in the DRC. Academic staff at all partner institutions benefitted from the partnership. It enriched their learning experiences and increased engagement with wider research communities. The partnership fostered the development of relationships that will provide future opportunities for collaboration. Collaborating partners were able to navigate challenges by building and maintaining a strong unified vision for the project.

Development of a curriculum and teaching methods: Nutritional epidemiology is a relatively new field of study in public health. It focusses on the relationship between diet and disease, specifically patterns, causes and solutions to nutritional problems. Nutritional Epidemiology had not previously been offered by KSPH or in the DRC, despite the very high levels of malnutrition in the country.  GROWNUT partners and collaborators developed 17 classroom modules which comprised the first year of study for the Master Degree in Nutritional Epidemiology. Modules were based on a self-directed, adult learning approach. The second year of study included a rural placement at a rural research site where students undertook practical training and collected data for their research project. 40 students graduated with masters’ degrees in Nutritional Epidemiology, and all completed a nutrition related research project. Most of the students (35) collected the data for their research at the rural research site established by the project.

Every PhD student had an individual academic programme created for them, because the candidates had diverse academic interests and backgrounds. Two PhDs were awarded during the GROWNUT project. Two students will graduate with a PhD in the coming year. All degrees were awarded by the University of Kinshasa.

The rural research site added value to the learning experience: A rural research site was established in the rural resource-constrained area of Popokabaka in the Kwago province, about a 10-hour drive from Kinshasa. There were high levels of poverty and malnutrition in the area. This gave students the opportunity to experience the conditions first-hand. They were able to relate these to both the theoretical and practical aspects of malnutrition. Infrastructure for student accommodation, solar electricity and internet access was established which will be available for future use.

Capacity building for all partners: All partners benefitted from the GROWNUT project through co-teaching in the DRC and at partner universities, as well as providing research supervision, co-authoring of manuscripts for publication and attendance at meetings and workshops.  In particular, the KSPH benefitted from staff members who were able to achieve postgraduate qualifications. Staff and students also had the opportunity to travel to partner universities to attend workshops, conferences and meetings.

English was a successful medium of instruction, but requires further support to overcome challenges: One of the challenges experienced during the GROWNUT project was finding a common language for partners and student communication.  As English was chosen as the medium of instruction, this may have limited the number of students who applied for the course. More importantly, it may have influenced students’ level of engagement with course materials and discourse during the course delivery.


Funding has been secured for five years to continue this valuable project into Phase II.  This new phase will broaden the partnership through the inclusion of Tanzania where, despite improvements in life expectancy, poverty and malnutrition still exist. 

Publications from the GROWNUT project

Peer-reviewed papers 

Ali, M.M., Haskins, L., John, V., Hatløy, A., Luthuli, S., Mapumulo, S., Engebretsen, I.M., Tylleskär, T., Mutombo, P. and Horwood, C., 2021. Establishing a postgraduate programme in nutritional epidemiology to strengthen resource capacity, academic leadership and research in the Democratic Republic of Congo. BMC medical education21(1), pp.1-11.

Horwood, C., Mapumulo, S., Haskins, L., John, V., Luthuli, S., Tylleskär, T., Mutombo, P., Engebretsen, I.M., Mapatano, M.A. and Hatløy, A., 2021. A North–South-South partnership in higher education to develop health research capacity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: the challenge of finding a common language. Health Research Policy and Systems19(1), pp.1-13.

Partners co-authored book chapter

Mapatano MA, Horwood C, & Hatløy A. Building a new master’s and PhD programme in nutritional epidemiology in Kinshasa: How to face obstacles beyond the control of the project. In: Sharing knowledge transforming societies. Edited by Tor Halvorsen, Kristin Skare Orgeret & Roy Krovel. ISBN 978-1-928502-01-2 e-Book. and

Masters students

Ngoy Bulaya, Emmanuel; Malamba Wa Malamba, Sylvain; Mulungulungu N. Ho, Ali; Luboya Numbi, Oscar (2020). Nutritional value of MASO31 recipe and complementary feeding according to the WHO recommendations in Katanga, DR Congo. Journal of Food Science & Technology. DOI: 10.25177/ JFST.5.4.RA.10657.

Ngoy Bulaya, Emmanuel; Horwood, Christiane; Mapatano, Mala Ali; Muyer Telo, Marie-Claire; Ntiba Assumpta, Ruth; Mutombo Beya, Paulin (2020). Complementary Feeding Practices Associated with Wasting of Children 6 – 23 Months Old in Dilala, Lualaba Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2017. Acta Scientific NUTRITIONAL HEALTH (ISSN:2582-1423),4 (8):67-76.

PhD students

Akilimali PZ, Mutombo PB, Kayembe PK, Kaba DK, Mapatano MA. (2014) Determinants of survival in HIV patients receiving antiretroviral therapy in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo]. Rev EpidemiolSantePublique; Jun; 62(3):20106.

Akilimali PZ, Kashala-Abotnes E, Musumari PM, Kayembe PK, Tylleskar T, Mapatano MA (2015) Predictors of Persistent Anaemia in the First Year of Antiretroviral Therapy: A Retrospective Cohort Study from Goma, the Democratic Republic of Congo. PLoS One; Oct 16;10(10):e0140240.

Babakazo P, Donnen P, Akilimali P, Mapatano MA, Okitolonda E Predictors of discontinuing exclusive breastfeeding before six months among mothers in Kinshasa: a prospective study. Epidemiol Sante Publique. Oct;63(5):285-92. (2015)

Bungu Denis, Katanga Joseph, Mungele Tresor; Kimema Sebastien. Effet du billonnage et du tuteurage sur le rendement en tubercul es chez le haricot igname d’Afrique (Sphenostylis stenocarpa): cas de deux écotypes de la R.D Congo. Congo Sciences volume 4 (2): 162 – 168.

Kafuti C., Bolaluembe P., Belesi, H; Ifuta, S; Bangelesa, Freddy. (2016) Impact of industrial logging on specific diversity and floristic composition of a tropical rainforest, case of Cotrefor-Alibuku concession forest in DRC. Revue Scientifique et Technique Forêt et Environnement du Bassin du Congo Volume 7. P. 18-27.

Malumba Paul, Bungu Denis, Katanga Joseph; Doran Lynn; Danthine Sabine; Béra François. Structural and physicochemical characterization of Sphenostylis stenocarpa (Hochst Ex. A. Rich) Harms tuber starch. Food Chemistry volu 212: 305 – 312 (2016).

Akilimali PZ, Musumari PM, Kashala- Abotnes E, Tugirimana PL, Mutombo PB, Veldman FJ, Kayembe PK, Tylleskar T, Mapatano MA. Food insecurity and undernutrition in treated HIV patients a (post-) conflict setting: A cross sectional study from Goma, Eastern Dem ocratic Republic of Congo. 2016. Nutrition Health Food Sci 4(2): 1-9 (2016)

Akilimali PZ, Musumari PM, Tugirimana PL, Mutombo PB, Veldman FJ, Patrick Kayembe PK, Mapatano MA, Tylleskar T, Kashala- Abotnes E. (2016) Depressive Symptoms, Loss of Appetite and Under Nutrition among Treated HIV Patients: A Cross Sectional Study in Goma, the Democratic Republic of Congo. 2016. Nutrition Health Food Sci 4(2): 1-10.

Akilimali, Pierre, Musumari, Patou Masika, Kashala-Abotnes, Espérance; Kayembe, Patrick; Lepira, François; Mutombo, Paulin; Tylleskar, Thorkild; Mapatano, Mapatano MA. Disclosure of HIV status and its impact on the loss in the follow-up of HIV-infected patients on potent anti-retroviral therapy programs in a (post-) conflict setting: A retrospective cohort study from Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. PLoS ONE. 2017 Feb 7: 12(2)

Bungu Denis, Katanga Joseph, Mungele Tresor; Kimema Sebastien. Production et potentiel de rendement en tubercules chez les écotypes du haricot igname d’Afrique (Sphenostylis stenocarpa) Hochst de la République Démocratique du Congo. Scientifique et Technique Forê t et Environnement du Bassin du Congo Volume 8. P. 28-35, Avril (2017).

Katanga Joseph, Bungu Denis, Mungele Tresor; Kimema Sebastien. Situation du haricot igname d’Afrique (Sphenostylis stenocarpa) en République Démocratique du Congo: culture, consommation, et qualités gustatives. Scientifique et Technique Forêt et Environn ement du Bassin du Congo Volume 8. P. 57-64, Avril (2017).

Bangelesa, Freddy; Elhadi Adam; Knight, Jasper; Dhau, Inos; Marubini Ramudzuli; et al. (2020) Predicting soil organic carbon content using hyperspectral remote sensing in a degraded mountain landscape in lesotho. Applied and Environmental Soil Science, 2020, 11.

Manuscripts submitted but not yet published

 ‘I am not only beneficial to the community but to the entire country, I am trained as a researcher now’. Developing health research skills in low-income countries: the power of a North-South-South partnership.  (SUBMITTED GLOBAL PUBLIC HEALTH – under review)

Establishing a postgraduate programme in nutritional epidemiology to strengthen resource capacity, academic leadership and research in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (BMC MEDICAL EDUCATION in press)

A North-South-South partnership in higher education to develop health research capacity in the Democratic Republic of Congo: the challenge of finding a common language (SUBMITTED BMC MEDICAL EDUCATION – under review)

A qualitative study to explore dietary knowledge, beliefs and practices among pregnant women in a rural health zone in Democratic Republic of Congo. (SUBMITTED JOURNAL OF HEALTH POPULATION AND NUTRITION)