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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains
It has long been used in Ethiopia and is well adapted to the high elevations and other conditions there. It is, however, unknown elsewhere. With a rising international interest in oats this little-known species deserves research attention.
Unlike common oats (Avena sativa), which is a hexaploid, Ethiopian oats is a tetraploid. It is seldom grown as a solitary crop; it is almost always sown in a mixture with barley. Agriculturists may classify it as a weak-stemmed "weed," but not the farmers. They harvest the two grains together and use them mainly in mixtures. These mixtures generally end up in injera (the flat national bread; see last chapter), local beer (tala), and other products. Some are roasted and eaten as snacks.
However, some people don't appreciate Ethiopian oats because the plant is not fully domesticated and does shatter somewhat. It is also fully fertile with the weed Avena vaviloviana, which creates swarms of weedy hybrids that shatter a lot.13
Nonetheless, Ethiopian native oats deserves research attention and a chance to prove itself.
Although wild forms of kodo millet (Paspalum scrobiculatum) occur in Africa, the plant is not grown as a crop there. However, domesticated forms have been developed in southern India, where they are planted quite widely. This is therefore a plant in the very process of domestication, and the cultivated forms could have an important future in Africa as well.
The wild form is common across tropical Africa (as well as across wetter parts of the Asian tropics from Indonesia to Japan). It is often abundant along paths, ditches, and low spots, especially where the ground is disturbed (which accounts for the reason it is sometimes called ditch millet).
Although kodo millet frequently infests rice fields in West Africa, it is tolerated even there. Many farmers actually take pleasure in seeing it in their plots. Should the rice crop fail or do poorly, they will not have lost everything ... the field will likely end up choked with kodo millet, which can then be harvested for food. In this sense, the weed becomes a lifesaver for a subsistence-farming family.
All in all, this is another obscure cereal deserving greater modern research and recognition. Two technical problems to evaluate are an ergotlike fungal disease and the probable presence of antinutritional compounds.
Specimens from these two species. as well as the hybrid between them. have also been referred to as the species Avena barbara Pott.. from which the Ethiopian species may have been derived.