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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains
Direct seeding trials using rain as the sole source of moisture;
Searches for elite specimens (those that, for instance, hold onto the ripe seed, that have bigger seed, and that best survive harsh conditions);
Trials on various sites (from the most favorable locations to moving sand dunes);
Analyses of food value (physical, chemical, and nutritional) as well as of the foods prepared from them; and
Multiplication of seeds or other planting materials for distribution to nomads, farmers, governments, and researchers.
The grass known in Arabic as drinn (Aristida pungens) once provided by far the most important wild grain of the northern Sahara.9 It was extremely abundant, often growing on sand dunes but especially on bottomlands watered by runoff from higher ground. It is a tall (to 1.5 m), tufted perennial with deep roots and long leaves. Its grains are black.
Travelers crossing the Sahara in the past often wrote about drinn's value, both as a food and as forage. Duveyrier (1864) commented: "its grain is often the only food for people." Cortier (1908) referred several times to the abundance of drinn: "The hillocks of sand in all the plain," he wrote, "are embossed by enormous tufts of drinn, whose black grains at the tips of long stems swing and sweep the soil."
Even as recently as 1969, drinn was still a significant part of the diet in the Sahara oases.10 In earlier times it was an important food from the desert's edge almost to the Ahaggar (southern Algeria). It was, for instance, vital to people living a tenuous existence in the very heart of this fearsome region; the Toubou of Tibesti (northern Chad) are just one example.11 In fact, this grass was so crucial to life that desert tribes were characterized as those who cultivated cereals (the Mahboud), and those who gathered drinn (the Maloul).
Drinn is extremely drought resistant. It grows, for instance, between Touggourt and El Oued in Algeria on sand dunes where the average rainfall is less than 70 mm per year.12
Various Panicum species have been favored by grain gatherers the world over. Panicum miliaceum was once so popular in Europe that