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White fonio

Fonio is the term for two cultivated grains in the Digitaria genus which are notable crops in parts of West Africa. The grains are very small. The crops have C4 metabolisms and are medium in height.[1] The number of chromosomes for the species can be diploid (2n), tetraploid (4n), or hexaploid (6n).[2]

The name (borrowed by English from French) is from Wolof foño.[3]


White fonio (Digitaria exilis)[edit]

White fonio, D. exilis, also called "hungry rice," is the most important of a diverse group of wild and domesticated Digitaria species that are harvested in the savannas of West Africa. Fonio has the smallest seeds of all species of millet. 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.

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.

Black fonio (Digitaria iburua)[edit]

Black fonio, D. iburua, is a similar crop grown in Nigeria, Niger, Togo, and Benin.


According to the mythology of the Dogon people of Mali, among whom it is known as pō tolo, the supreme creator of the universe, Amma, made the entire universe by exploding a single grain of fonio, located inside the "egg of the world".

See also[edit]

  • Teff, another African grass crop seed
  • Digitaria compacta, raishan, used as a grain crop in northeast India
  • Digitaria sanguinalis, considered a weed around the world, but traditionally used as a grain crop in Europe


  1. ^ Haq, N (1995). Fonio (Digitaria exilis and Digitaria iburua). London: Chapman & Hall. pp. 2–6. 
  2. ^ Adoukonou-Sagbadja, H.; Schubert, V.; Dansi, A.; Jovtchev, G.; Meister, A.; Pistrick, K.; Akpagana, K.; Friedt, W. (2007-07-02). "Flow cytometric analysis reveals different nuclear DNA contents in cultivated Fonio (Digitaria spp.) and some wild relatives from West-Africa". Plant Systematics and Evolution 267 (1-4): 163–176. doi:10.1007/s00606-007-0552-z. ISSN 0378-2697. 
  3. ^ Christian Seignobos and Henry Tourneux, Le Nord-Cameroun à travers ses mots: Dictionnaire de termes anciens et modernes: Province de l'extrême-nord (KARTHALA Editions, 2002; ISBN 2845862458), p. 107.

Further reading[edit]

  • "Fonio: an African cereal crop". CIRAD. Retrieved May 16, 2014. 
  • National Research Council (14 February 1996). "Fonio (Acha)". Grains. Lost Crops of Africa 1. Washington: National Academies Press. ISBN 978-0-309-04990-0. Retrieved 2008-07-18. 
  • "Fonio: an African cereal crop". CIRAD. Archived from the original on October 13, 2005. Retrieved January 10, 2006. 
  • Kuta, Danladi Dada; Kwon-Ndung, Emmanuel; Dachi, Stephen; Ukwungwu, Mark; Imolehin, Emmanuel Dada (December 2003). "Potential role of biotechnology tools for genetic improvement of "lost crops of Africa": the case of fonio (Digitaria exilis and Digitaria iburua)". African Journal of Biotechnology 2 (12): 580–585. ISSN 1684-5315. 
  • Chevalier, A. 1922. Les petites céréales. Revue Internationale d’Agriculture Tropicale et Botanique appliquée, 2:544-550.
  • Hilu, K.W. (1997). "Fonio millets: Ethnobotany, genetic diversity and evolution". South African Journal of Botany 63 (4): 185–190. 
  • Morales-Payán, J.; Pablo, J.; Ortiz, Richard; Cicero, Julio; Taveras, Francisco (2002). Janick, J.; Whipkey, A., eds. Digitaria exilis as a crop in the Dominican Republic. Supplement to: Trends in new crops and new uses. Alexandria, VA: ASHS Press. 
  • Portères, R. (1946). "L’aire culturale du Digitaria iburua Stapf. céréale mineure de l’Ouest Africain". L’Agronomie tropicale (in French) 1 (11-12): 389–392. 
  • Portères, R. (1955). "Les céréales mineures du genre Digitaria en Afrique et Europe". Journal d’Agriculture Tropicale et Botanique Appliquée (in French) (2): 349–386, 477–510, 620–675. 
  • Portères, R. (1976). "African cereals: eleusine, fonio, black fonio, teff, Brachiaria, Paspalum, Pennisetum and African rice". In Harlan, J.R.; De Wet, J.M.J.; Stemler, A.B.L. Origins of African plant domestication. The Hague: Mouton. pp. 409–452.