What is Fonio?
Ancient: Fonio is believed to be one of the oldest cereals in West Africa, where it is indigenous and its cultivation extends back 5000 years. This forgotten grain has adapted to be perfect for the dry and harsh climate in the saharan region.
Africa: This grain embodies great symbolic meaning for many African cultures spanning the Sahara. In some, Fonio symbolically represents the universe, as from Fonio, life is born.
Food: This tiny grain packs a punch, in nutritional terms, providing more protein than most staple grains in modern agriculture. Annually, 3 to 4 million people are fed with Fonio in West Africa!
Grows faster than most of the crops, within 60 to 70 days
Its drought resistance can help prevent the spread of deserts
Save for diabetic or intolerant people
Can be used in savory, sweet, warm, cold dishes, pastry or beer
The life of Fonio
Fonio is drought-resistant and has the ability to grow on poor, shallow, sandy or rocky soils, where other cereals cannot grow. Its roots help to secure topsoil to prevent the spread of deserts and it’s one of the world’s fastest-maturing grains, growing in 60 to 70 days. Fonio is nicknamed the ‘lazy farmer’s crop’ because it is so easy to grow. Farmers simply scatter the seeds after the first rain and wait for harvest. This traditional method yields about 0.5 to 1.2 tonnes per hectare. However, up to two tonnes per hectare can be harvested under very good agronomic conditions.
The seed germinates within a week after planting. Adult plants grow to about 50cm tall, while flowers show about 6 to 8 weeks after emergence. The grain is ready to harvest between 60 and 120 days after emergence. The plants are usually harvested with a knife or a sickle, tied into sheaves, dried and stored under cover.
The main challenge when cultivating fonio is turning the grain into food. Fonio grains are as tiny as sand and each must have their inedible covers removed. Farmers spend two hours threshing and dehulling, yielding only one kilo of fonio. Thanks to a Senegalese mechanical engineer, a machine was invented capable of making this laborious procedure into an 8 minute task of dehulling five kilos of fonio. This machine is promising because unlike the traditional procedure, it can easily meet the high demands of food supply and it doesn’t require water. Unfortunately, the miraculous machine is steps away from being distributed to all countries. Funds are still needed for mass production and transportation to bring food security and possibly prosper to countries in need.
From Lake Chad to the savannah regions of Senegal and Guinea, fonio is an important food source for some 4 million people across West Africa. Fonio is one of the most nutritious of all grains. It is rich in important essential amino acids that are not found in wheat, rice, maize or sorghum—such as methionine, leucine, valine and cysteine, which help synthesize protein.
This miraculous grain can be beneficial for diabetics as it contains low sugar content and low glycemic index which ensures less fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin levels. It is also rich in iron, with 8.5 mg per serving, meeting at least half of the daily requirement. Not to mention that it is reach in the minerals zinc and magnesium.
Fonio can be used in salads, crackers, pastas, and even in baked goods. It can be used in place of oats to make hot cereal, in place of couscous or rice in any dish and is delicious mixed with spices and olive oil as a side dish. It also can be used to brew beer.
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Get to Know Fonio
good to know
White Fonio, also known as ‘acha’ or ‘fundi’, is a minor cereal crop cultivated throughout West Africa from Senegal to Lake Chad. It is a common staple food as well as a prestige food and a gourmet item.
The plants, reaching a size of 30 to 80 cm, produce tiny grains of 1.0 to 1.5 mm length which have excellent nutritional quality. Due to its short growth cycle of 70 to 150 days, farmers can sow the crop two times within one year, if conditions allow.
Fonio grows on very poor soils, where other cereals do not succeed. This makes the crop resilient in desert conditions, making Fonio the perfect crop to fight desertification.