Fonio: a cereal that requires very little water to grow

The drought that has made much of Europe’s soil thirsty since the beginning of summer is a reminder of how precious and exhaustable water is. The restrictions imposed on farmers force us seriously to think about the food of tomorrow. And if we take the example of the countries of West Africa that for millennia have been cultivating a grain that hardly needs water to grow… Do you know fonio?

It’s not couscous. It’s not bulgur or quinoa either. But we are getting closer to all these seeds aesthetically. Distinguished by two types, one white and the other black – although less widespread, this cereal has been cultivated in West Africa for 5,000 years. It is a form of millet. In fact, it is one of the first seeds that the dark continent began to produce. Its existence is therefore absolutely nothing new. According to statistical data from the FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, fonio production in 2019 amounted to 700,000 tons, on an area of ​​920,000 hectares.

A water-poor crop

If we talk about it more and more, it is because the cultivation is perfectly adapted to dry production areas. It exists in Guinea, Mali but also in Senegal, Togo and Burkina Faso. Between the Sahara and the tropical regions of Central Africa, fonio thrives on shallow, sandy, and sometimes rocky soil. Above all, the culture works in a climate with very little water. According to data from the ICVolunteers association, which sets up humanitarian, environmental and social programs in West Africa, the grain can grow in the valleys of areas where there is not much rainfall; the latter thus feed on run-off water. We count on it when the reserves of other grains dwindle and we wait for the next harvest. From an agricultural point of view, fonio is also interesting because it can grow on land that has been worn out by repeated cultivation.

However, this grain that the British newspaper the guard was already spotted in 2014, because the new fashionable quinoa not only has advantages, and this makes it possible to understand the limits of its production. Before being prepared, fonio must be peeled. Traditionally, women use a mortar and pestle to preserve only the heart. To peel a kilo of fonio takes an hour of work… Three to four pounding is actually necessary, not to mention the need to remove the sand from the grains as well.

According to the Senegalese organization IED Afrique, a huller was developed in 1993 that can process five kilos of fonio in just eight minutes. A technological breakthrough that has since evolved, allowing experts to envision fonio as the grain of tomorrow. In Ghana, chef Fatmata Binta has set up a foundation that enables women to take ownership of their land and to cultivate fonio. Of Fulani origin, the cook who has just received the Basque World Culinary Prize – a kind of Nobel Prize for gastronomy, also prepares these cereals in her ephemeral restaurant Fulani Kitchen, copying all the culinary habits of the people of her origin, the largest nomadic tribe in Africa.

In the kitchen

Gluten-free, fonio has a very high content of amino acids, especially methionine and cystine. If it is less protein-rich, the glycemic index is low, which makes it interesting to prescribe it to people suffering from diabetes or obesity. His followers also praise its good digestibility. Soft for some, taste of hazelnuts for others, this ancestral grain can in any case be cooked very easily, in the same way as quinoa: in a large amount of boiling water. In West Africa it is customary to make porridge, bread and even beer!

So it can be used in porridge, if not, visit a tabbouleh where the couscous is replaced with fonio, or even make homemade cereal bars with fonio flour.

In Europe, organic stores are the places where it is easiest to find, with the key – it must be admitted, a high price. The easiest way is to bet online on organic groceries. For example, calculate around 10 euros per kilo at Naturalia. In the United States, the organic distributor Whole Foods markets it.

(ETX Daily Up)

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