Teff (eragrostis tef) is an ancient crop with modern potential to address food insecurity throughout the developing world. It is a type of grass that is Ethiopia’s most widely grown cereal crop, providing over two-thirds of nutrition in the Ethiopian diet.
The grain can be consumed by both humans and cattle and its small seed means it cooks faster and uses less fuel. This is a distinct advantage in developing countries where fuel can be scarce and expensive. When eaten in whole-grain form, teff is easy to digest and highly nutritious. It contains very high levels of calcium as well as high levels of phosphorous, iron, copper, aluminum, barium, and thiamine. It is higher in protein than sorghum, maize, or oats. The relative lack of anemia in Ethiopia is reportedly due to the high consumption of Ethiopia’s ubiquitous flat bread called injera, which is made from fermented teff.
According to scientists at the Southern Agricultural Research Center, teff has a number of advantages. In terms of production, teff is hardy and adaptable, growing well in a variety of environmental conditions ranging from near-drought conditions to water-saturated soils, as well as degraded soils, all of which are problems faced throughout the developing world.
The growing season for teff is relatively short and it is less prone to disease and pest problems compared to other cereal grains. It is easy to harvest for forage and seed. Teff is also generally easier to store because a variety of common storage pests do not attack it. These characteristics help make it a reduced-cost and low-risk crop choice for farmers. Finally, teff can be stored for years at a time, which is especially important in climates where water scarcity due to local climate change is a consistent problem.
In Ethiopia, it is a primary focus for agricultural development, and there are lessons to be gleaned from studies there which can be applied to teff production elsewhere. Norman Uphoff of the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development notes that SRI principles have been applied to teff production in order to help Ethiopian farmers increase teff productivity. However, it should be noted that one challenge with teff is planting its tiny seeds precisely at the necessary depth for sowing. It can also be be used as a cover crop for erosion control, which means it can be useful for environmental restoration.
Teff has more recently taken a foothold in the U.S. health food market as both a grain and flour. Perhaps this newfound attention will bring more attention and research to this unique, adaptable, and highly nutritious crop, to the betterment of agricultural development throughout the developing world.
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup whole grain teff
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1. Bring 1 1/2 cups of water to boil, with salt. Pour in the teff, cardamom, cinnamon, butter and maple syrup. Stir vigorously, at first.
2. Turn the heat down to medium and let porridge simmer until it has thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking or burning.
3. When the porridge has turned tender without being mushy and reached the consistency you wish, pull it off the heat.