Some of the cereals described previously are not, strictly speaking, "lost." But there are a number of African food grains that are indeed truly overlooked by modern science. (See chapter 13, page 237.)
Perhaps the world's least-known domesticated cereal, guinea millet (Brachiaria deflexa), is cultivated by farmers only in the Fouta Djallon Plateau, a remote region of Guinea. At present, almost nothing can be said about its potential, but it clearly deserves exploratory research and support.
This rare wheat (Triticum dicoccum) originated in the Near East, but it has a very ancient African heritage. It reached Ethiopia probably 5,000 years ago or more and, although it virtually disappeared elsewhere in the world, it comprises almost 7 percent of Ethiopia's entire wheat production. Moreover, far from abandoning it, Ethiopian farmers over the last 40 years have actually increased the percentage of emmer that they grow.
The plant is adapted to a wide range of environments and should be producible in many parts of the world. The fact that it is little changed from wheat eaten in the times of the Bible and the Koran could give it special consumer appeal. But it can stand on its own culinary merits. It is one of the sweetest and best-tasting cereals.
Although barley is also not native to Africa, it, too, has been used in Ethiopia for thousands of years. Indeed, Ethiopian barley has been isolated so long that it has been given its own botanical name, Hordeum irregulare, and has developed its own genetic "personality." This ancient barley is grown mainly in Ethiopia, where it ranks fourth among crops, both in production and area. Throughout most of the upper highlands it accounts for over 60 percent of the people's total plant food. Ethiopia is perhaps unmatched with respect to barley diversity. Indeed, some scientists think it is a source of new germplasm that could possibly boost barley growing in Africa and around the world.
In Ethiopia is found a native oats, Avena abyssinica. This species was domesticated in the distant past and is a largely nonshattering plant that retains its grain so people can harvest it. It has long been used in Ethiopia and is well adapted to the high elevations there. It is, however, unknown elsewhere.