Fonio, Digitaria exilis and Digitaria iburua, is native to West Africa and is one of the world’s oldest grains. In different parts of the world fonio may also be referred to as acha, funde, fundi, or findi. In some areas, fonio is more commonly known as hungry rice.
Like many of its grain relatives, fonio can be used in various ways. Fonio is used to make porridge, couscous, and beer. Fonio is also considered one of the tastiest cereals. When ground, fonio flour can be used to make bread or pasta. Fonio grains can also be used to feed livestock, and the straw can be used for building materials or burned for heat.
With a maturation time of six to eight weeks after being planted, fonio provides much needed sustenance during what is known as the hunger season—the time between when last year’s crops have all been eaten and this year’s crops have yet to mature and be harvested.
Harvesting fonio can be a labor intensive process and, once picked, farmers may find a percentage of seeds to be empty. Empty seeds have a normal shell on the outside, but inside there is no seed. New technology, such as machinery to clean the seeds and using greenhouses to dry the seeds, are being tested to ease the harvesting processes as well as increase the uses of fonio.
In many areas of Africa, women grow and harvest fonio. Women in Mali have also begun to increase the use and value of fonio by developing precooked fonio flour. With the help of the Malian Association for the Promotion of Young Ladies and Women (AMPJF), a quick cooking fonio has been produced. The flour takes only 15 minutes to cook and eliminates the need to clean the seeds of dirt, thereby saving both time and energy.
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