White fonio, Digitaria exilis
, is an annual grass in the family Poaceae grown for its grain which is commonly used to make porridge. Fonio is an erect, tillering grass with delicate stems and alternate leaves. The leaves are blade like or linear and tapering and can reach up to 15 cm (6 in) in length. The plant produces spikelets, where the grain is produced, on branched, spike-like panicles. A single inflorescence possesses 2–5 racemes with spikelets arranged in pairs or in threes or fours, giving it a lacy appearance. White fonio can reach a height of 30–80 cm (11.8–31.5 in) depending on variety and is an annual plant, harvested after one growing season. White fonio may also be referred to fonio, hungry rice or hungry millet and originates from West Africa.
The fonio grain is consumed after cooking, either as a porridge or couscous. The grain may also be ground and mixed with other cereals. Fonio grain may be used to brew beers and the straw can be used as animal fodder.
Fonio is a tropical plant and requires a dry season to grow properly. The plant grows optimally at temperatures between 25 and 30°C (77–86°F) and in areas where the average rainfall is between 900 and 1000 mm. Fonio can be grown on a range of soils and it is generally grown in soils that are considered too nutrient poor for other crops. The plants will grow best in light, sandy soils and it is often planted in rotation with rice, sorghum or millet.
Fonio is direct seeded by broadcasting in the field and germinates and grows rapidly, out-competing weeds and negating the need for weeding the field. The soil is roughly loosened prior to planting and seed is generally broadcast at a rate of 10 to 30 kg of seed/ha. The seeds are then lightly dug into the soil or covered using a hoe and allowed to germinate.
General care and maintenance
Fonio requires little maintenance after planting and is highly adapted to drought conditions.
Fonio is harvested using traditional methods, The plants are cut using a knife or sickle and gathered into sheaths for drying. Processing the grain is a laborious process that requires beating the dried plants to extract the grain and then dehulling the grain using a mortar.
Board on Science and Technology for International Development (1996) Lost Crops of Africa. Volume 1. Available at: http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=2305&page=59. [Accessed 05 December 14]. Free to access
CIRAD (2009). Fonio. Available at: http://fonio.cirad.fr/en/the_plant. [Accessed 05 December 14]. Free to access