WHAT IS FONIO?
Fonio is the term for cultivated grains in the Digitaria genus. These are notable in parts of West Africa and one species in India. The grains are very small.
White fonio (D. exilis) is the most important of a diverse group of wild and domesticated Digitaria species that are harvested in the savannas of west Africa. Fonio is the smallest of all species of millet. It is one of the primary cereals of southern Sudan and Ethiopia in Africa. It has potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development and support sustainable use of the land.
Fonio has continued to be important locally because it is both nutritious and one of the world’s fastest growing cereals, reaching maturity in as little as six to eight weeks. It is a crop that can be relied on in semi-arid areas with poor soils, where rains are brief and unreliable. The grains are used in porridge and couscous, for bread, and for beer.
Some regions in which this crop is important are the Fouta Djallon region of Guinea and the Akposso area of Togo. In the latter, fonio (called ?va) is primarily a women’s crop; it and cowpeas are used to make a traditional dish.
The small grains make it difficult and time-consuming to remove the husk. Traditional methods include pounding it in a mortar with sand (then separating the grains and sand) or “popping” it over a flame and then pounding it (which yields a toasted color grain; this technique is used among the Akposso). The invention of a simple fonio husking machine offers an easier mechanical way to dehusk.