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Could Fonio Be A New Cash Crop?
The good news about fonio, a cultivated grain in the millet family dating back to 5000 BC, is that it grows well in hot, dry regions. It’s nicknamed the “lazy farmer’s crop” because it requires little input during the growing season. The bad news is that it’s labor intensive to harvest, clean and process in West Africa, where most of it’s grown. So far it hasn’t caught on in North America.
Some call it the “new quinoa” because it’s gluten-free, scores low on the glycemic index, and has macronutrients, fiber, amino acids, and five times as much protein as brown rice. Chefs are incorporating the fast-cooking (5 min.) grain into sweet and savory dishes. It can be used the same way as rice or couscous or ground into flour.
The seed is broadcast seeded on loosened light, sandy soil and lightly dug into the soil with a hoe. No fertilizer or weed control is needed as it grows rapidly ahead of weeds. It grows well in temperatures between 77 and 86 F with an average rainfall of 35 in. The grain is ready in 6 to 8 weeks.
Then the work begins. West African farmers cut the stalks of grain with knives or sickles and gather them into sheaths for drying. The dried plants are beaten to loosen the grain, which must be dehulled with a mortar.
Imported fonio grain and flour are available online, starting at $13/lb. Recently, a U.S. Agency for International Development grant awarded $1.9 million to create 13,000 jobs and establish a direct trade of fonio to the U.S. from Mali, a country in Africa.

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2022 - Volume #46, Issue #5